Merlin's a Weegie – and he hails from Partick
ONLY in the hearts of locals could Partick be described as "magical". The tenement flats in the West End of Glasgow may have given us Billy Connolly and his big banana feet, but Merlin the Magician?
Yet this is exactly the proposition of Adam Ardrey, the advocate, former SNP candidate and author of a new book which places the wizard of Disney's The Sword in the Stone as a resident of Ardery Street, just off Dumbarton Road - albeit, circa 600AD.
There is no evidence, as yet, that the Lady in the Lake lived next door.
Today, the modern red brick flats of Ardery Street are a long way from Camelot, the marble and turreted citadel where King Arthur held court and Merlin guided his hand. Yet 1,400 years ago the area was open countryside, a fertile spot where the River Kelvin meets the Clyde and where, according to Mr Ardrey's investigations, the man who would be Merlin lived in considerable comfort.
To critics, it is bad enough that an amateur historian has claimed the Arthurian hero, or villain (depending on the text you read) as a Scot, a snub to alternative claims made by the English, Welsh and French, without then going even further and identifying his postcode. "As soon as you mention Arthur and Merlin, people laugh," said Mr Ardrey, the author of Finding Merlin -The Truth Behind The Legend. "No respectable Cambridge historian is going to be seen as the guy who studies their lives. But I'm not a professional historian, so I don't have a reputation to look out for. What I've tried to do is make sense of the history."
Six years' toil has led Mr Ardrey to the conclusion that Merlin was not a wizard, but a scholar and politician. The son of a chief called Morken, who lived in central Scotland in the late 6th and early 7th centuries, he resided with his wife Gwendolin, according to the author, in what is now Ardery Street, from 600AD to 618AD. Mr Ardrey believes Merlin was assassinated on his way to Dunipace in Stirlingshire later that year and lies buried at Drumelzier in the Borders.
The idea may not be as outlandish as anyone raised on films by Disney or John Boorman's Excalibur with their decidedly English wizards, might first expect. The history and genesis of Merlin does point to a character from Scotland as inspiration for the magician.
The story begins in the 12th century with a clergyman, Geoffrey of Monmouth, who - having a flair for writing - took it upon himself to record the history of Britain. His earliest work was The Prophecies of Merlin, which was written at some point before 1135 and based on Welsh legends about a madman called Myrddin.
According to tales, he lived in the forests of Caledonia. He had been a bard for Lord Gwenddoleu but was driven mad after witnessing the slaughter of his lord and his forces at the Battle of Arfderydd by Riderch Hael, King of Alt Clut (Strathclyde) in 573AD.
Myrddin was thought to have the power of prophecy and even predicted he would die by falling, being stabbed and drowned. He was, according to legend, attacked by shepherds who drove him off a cliff. He then landed on a wooden spike in the Tweed and died with his head under the water.
Geoffrey of Monmouth changed the name Myrddin to Merlin and the prophecies became popular and widely believed. The author expanded on Merlin's background in his next work, Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) in which he lifted details about a legendary figure called Aurelius Ambrosius and wrapped them around Merlin. In a previous history of the kings of Britain, an author called Nennius told the story of an ancient British king called Vortigern. He was trying to erect a tower, but it always collapsed on completion and so his wise men told him it was necessary to sprinkle the blood of "a child born without a father".
Ambrosius was rumoured to be such a child, but when brought before the king, he revealed that the problem was the foundations - below which lay a lake containing two fighting dragons, a predicament never encountered on Location, Location, Location.
The idea of the "child born without a father" was transferred from Ambrosius to Merlin, as was the story of the tower with Merlin - now the hero. In this volume he took on an even more supernatural quality, as he was born to a king's daughter who was impregnated by an incubus. He was also - most crucially for the next 1,000 years of literature and, later, movies - revealed to be an associate of King Arthur.
According to Geoffrey, it was Merlin's magic which allowed Uther Pendragon to enter the castle of his enemy and, in disguise, father Arthur on his enemy's wife, Igraine. His final volume, Vita Merlini (The Life of Merlin), was written between 1149 and 1151. Despite the popularity of Geoffrey of Monmouth's texts, not everyone believed his inventive "history". In 1190, William of Newburgh, wrote: "It is clear that everything this man wrote about Arthur and his successors, or indeed about his predecessors from Vortigern onwards, was made up, partly by himself and partly by others, either from an inordinate love of lying, or for the sake of pleasing the Britons".
Once conjured up by a vivid imagination mixed with fragments of history, Merlin, along with King Arthur and the knights of Camelot was to enjoy many more adventures, driven on by the quill of successive writers.
Merlin the Wizard and Merlin the Man, if such even existed, would be two totally different people and it was Mr Ardrey's quest to discover what facts he could about the man.
The inspiration came seven years ago when he visited the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh to research the origins of his name.
"I found evidence connecting it to Arthur the legendary hero, which provided proof he was a Scottish warlord born in 559," he said in an interview at the weekend. "When I watch programmes or read books about Arthur and Merlin, the maps stop at the Border. Yet four of Arthur's most famous battles were fought at Loch Lomondside. In movies, he's portrayed as an English king when he's far from it. He made his reputation fighting against the English. When I found the evidence I couldn't leave it alone."
The chain of evidence that links Merlin to Partick is that as Myrddin he was at the Battle of Arderydd, the modern version of which is Ardery. The fact that there is still an Ardery Street - "the only one out of 10,000 streets in Glasgow" - is, in the author's mind at least, part of a series of historical links. "I say Merlin lived there from 600 to 618," he asserts. "I'm not saying you must believe this. All I have done is the best I can with the evidence I've found. If I'm right, I'm right and if I'm wrong, I'm wrong."
• Finding Merlin - The Truth Behind The Legend, by Adam Ardrey, is published by Mainstream at 12.99.
MANY FACES OF MERLIN
THE character of Merlin has undergone a number of transformations in both film and books over the decades.
• A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court - a 1889 novel by Mark Twain - portrayed Merlin as a villain who only pretended to have magic powers.
• The Sword in the Stone, the 1963 animated Disney movie, showed the character as a charming old man, with the voice provided by Karl Swenson.
• Excalibur, the 1981 film directed by John Boorman, saw Merlin as an eccentric with mystical powers which he drew from the earth. He was played by Nicol Williamson.
• In the 1992 movie Merlin, actress Nadia Cameron was a girl who discovers that she is the reincarnated daughter of the great wizard.
• Merlin had Sam Neill play the wizard in a 1998 TV movie which told his life story from birth to old age.
• In 2004, King Arthur became the latest big budget Hollywood movie to tackle the Arthurian legend. It took a "historical" approach with Merlin.
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