9 November, 2012

Free Merlin!

Simon Higgins at Merlin's Cave (Wales)

Merlin’s Cave (Cornwall, England)

Of wizards, imagination and, you guessed it, dynamite. 🙂


Imagination is like a muscle; exercise it regularly and it develops tone, power, and performs better, in your chosen art or craft, conversation, even just the way you enjoy life’s humour and ironies. Einstein famously said that imagination was more important than knowledge. Humbly, I wish to add a perspective to that:  since one springs from the other, both really matter.

In 2011, I was knowledge-mining  fascinating places in Europe, gathering research and inspiration for future stories. Including Tintagel in Cornwall, an archaeological site with Dark Ages and Medieval dig sections, linked to the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Ruined Tintagel Castle perches on a rocky, wind-swept island linked to the mainland by a thin wooden bridge. As an amateur Indiana Jones, I found it a place in which to see, touch and sense an enthralling past I’d enthusiastically read up on. But for me, the site’s mystique deepened when climbing down to the beach below the castle. For there, low tide permitting, waited Merlin’s Cave.

I chanced upon a mature-aged Welshman sitting on a rock, staring out to sea.

‘Are you Merlin?’ I quipped.

‘Nooo,’ he said in that lovely Welsh lilt. ‘Merlin’s in there,’ he motioned at the cave. ‘Why don’t you go say hello?’ I smiled, nodded, readied a torch, and did as he said.

Merlin’s cave has a main gallery which cuts right through the island on which the castle sits, opening onto a rocky cove. But intriguingly, there’s also a narrow fork off to the left which is impassable, blocked by an old rock fall of huge boulders. Seeing it, my fertile –and whimsical- imagination cut in.

The wizard was behind there, trapped, I decided with mock intensity, I could sense it! This had to be the spot where Morgana confined Merlin when she stole his magic, and if I freed him, he’d share his powers with me and, and…I could save the world, or at least become a superhero in a totally awesome medieval outfit.

No doubt this was my destiny. But how to move these boulders?

Pulling a maniacal Jack Black-type face I raised an index finger. ‘Dynamite!’

Now, for the record, I don’t actually endorse laying explosives beneath World Heritage archaeological sites, under any circumstances. No, sigh, not even to free Merlin himself.

Crossing the beach again, I found the Welshman still sitting on his rock. My imagination and twisted sense of humour now fully engaged, I simply couldn’t resist another friendly wise crack.

‘You are Merlin, aren’t you?’ I jibed, smiling. ‘You don’t fool me. I know wizards can shape-shift.’

Delightfully, this charming stranger entered into the spirit of the moment. ‘All right,’ he lilted, pulling a dramatic expression, ‘I admit it!’ He pointed to the cave mouth. ‘I AM Merlin! And when you leave, I’ll vanish, back in there, through my di-mensional portal!’

Utterly outdone! Given his last reference, I was obviously dealing with a Doctor Who fan. And how appropriate, seeing as the show is filmed in Cardiff, where this most excellent Taffy-Merlin probably hailed from.

So here’s the point of this yarn: may fact, be it historical, folkloric or whatever, always provoke imagination. And let’s never forget that imagination is like love, music, art and of course, humour – these are all universal languages, and potential keys to instant rapport between strangers.

What if he really was a time lord? After all, they seem to frequent Wales… 🙂

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