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.
* * *
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!