Old Favorite: Merlin’s Mistake

We have a great display up right now for boys, called Boys with Swords. It’s right above the computer beside the gerbils’ cages. You really can’t miss it…just look for the sword and shield hanging on the wall!  There’s also a booklist.

While I was picking titles for the booklist, I started thinking about some  favorite older fantasy titles. Some of my favorites didn’t make my booklist  (it is, after all, called  Boys with Swords, not Girls with Swords, or Elves with Swords, or Boys with Bows, which unfortunately eliminated some choices). Several favorites did fit the qualifications of an adventure about a boy,  who fought with a sword, and went on a quest. Excellent!  But while going through the list of titles, I realized that one of my absolute  favorites has not been checked out recently, nor very often over the past few years.

I guess it’s not a surprise–our paperback copy has an awful cover picture, and the hardcover is missing a dustjacket, and therefore has no picture at all! Because it’s such a good book that deserves much more attention,  I thought it was time to feature Merlin’s Mistake, by Robert Newman as this week’s Old Favorite.

* * *

Brian desperately wants to be a knight like his father, who died ten years ago. Unfortunately, he’s stuck at home, as his overly protective mother doesn’t want to lose him too.

Tertius is the third son of another knight. He’s not really aiming for knighthood, he just wants to use the magic he received as a christening gift from Merlin.  Merlin, it seems, was distracted by Nimue when he gave the gift, and instead of giving the gift of all possible knowledge, he gave Tertius the gift of all future knowledge. So Tertius knows all about spectacles, and computers, and lasers, but he has no idea how to cure warts. In this time and place, science is unknown, and as a form of “magic”, it’s unacceptable.

It’s Brian’s sixteenth birthday, which means it is time for him to go on a quest to prove his manhood. Tertius asks to come along, so he can find someone to teach him magic…proper medieval  magic. After some resistance from his mother and guardian, Brian is gifted with his father’s sword, and together, the boys set out on an exciting and dangerous journey.

Brian almost immediately clashes with the evil (and invisible!)  Black Knight, who is holding a kingdom hostage. In Brian’s quest to find the  mysterious  “knight with a red shield”  whom a prophecy claims will defeat the Black Knight, Brian and Tertius are joined by a crabby crone named Maud–who may or may not be old.  Working together, these three very different individuals encounter a variety of characters who both help and hinder them along the way. Can they find Merlin? Is science really more useless than magic? Will they find the knight with the red shield?  Brian, Tertius and Maud will do their best.

* * *

This is a very interesting and funny book.  Even though Brian and Tertius are searching for Merlin, they never really get anywhere near Camelot; instead, they roam through what seems to be a somewhat magical alternate to medieval England, full of quirky characters and dangerous situations.  And you’ll discover that in certain cases, science can be as useful as sword-fighting in encounters with monsters!

Merlin’s Mistake came out in 1970. There is a sequel, The Testing of Tertius, which came out in 1985. (No swords in that one though–Tertius has to rescue Merlin from a spell.)  Both are fun to read, and run about 300 pages, but with largish text. If you like your sword and sorcery quests with an irreverent side, or you enjoy the Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander or the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede, you’ll like this one too.

Try our other Boys with Swords books too!



6 thoughts on “Old Favorite: Merlin’s Mistake

  1. I’m so happy to see so many of my old favorites on this blog!! Some of these are getting hard to find in my local library – I do my best to pick up old copies at yard sales, though my kids – all boys – would rather read the latest Rick Riordan. Nothing wrong with him, but still, it warms my heart to find someone else who likes Robert Newman, John Bellairs, Diana Wynne Jones (Dogsbody was my favorite) and Blackbriar (scared me to death as well!). Thanks for writing – bookmarking your blog and will check back!

    • Yay! A kindred reader!

      It is getting difficult to find some of these books, but any book that I blog about, we have on our shelves. I try to make sure that our collection still includes many older titles…that’s one of the reasons I started doing an “Old Favorites” entry. It’s hard to see these books sitting on the shelves, all lonely and neglected just because they’re a little tattered. (although if they come back in print, we buy new copies.)

      I’m glad you enjoy the blog, and I hope we’ll hear back from you!

  2. Sounds like you like the same sort of books I grew up on – my sister started reading Narnia Tales to us when I was 5 and it went on from there.
    Testing of Tertius actually came out in 1973, the 80’s one must have been a reprint. I always wished he would have made it a trilogy. Have you read his ‘Shattered Stone”?

  3. Fantasy has always been my favorite genre…although adventure, historical fiction and mysteries were all tied for second place. It helped that we lived very close to the library and that I had three sisters who read almost as much as I did, and we all liked to talk about what we were reading.

    Thanks for the info on Tertius. I did a very quick check, and since I didn’t remember seeing it until the 80s, I didn’t look any further. My bad! I did read The Shattered Stone, and I remember it fondly…hm, now I think I’ll have to go read it again!

  4. Tertius sounds like my kind of guy! How did I miss this set? I’ll have to hunt for it. Thanks.
    Did you have Hilari Bell’s Knight & Rogue seies, or was the display ONLY for old books?

    • Tertius is a great character! I don’t think these books got the publicity they deserved. Of course, the computer stuff is dated now, so if Merlin was time-traveling, he got his info on computer technology from the mid-80s.

      We did have the Knight & Rogue series in the display as well. They were also in the Boys with Swords and the Thieves booklists.

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