How to Know If You’re Talking to Merlin

Sword in Stone Merlin and Archimedes

You and your brother who is a fierce knight were wandering through the woods when he shot an arrow into the air after a passing hawk. Running to catch it, you stumble across an old man. He wears magisterial robes and gives off a faint impression of being a secret owl.

There are tales told in these woods of a legendary enchanter named Merlin who knows the languages of birds and beasts. But you are skeptical. The woods are full of strange men. He wants you to come home with him; should you do it? Is it safe? Is it really Merlin?

Take a close look at his glasses. How would you describe them? Half-moon? Pince-nez? Merlin’s glasses will defy conventional description, “tarantula” being the closest point of reference.

Does he laughingly quote a prophecy about himself written a thousand years from now, but spoken by someone in the past, someone who knew all about him? It’s confusing, I know.

If he has violent flashes of temper that make you afraid to go near him, that could be one of several wizards but it’s not necessarily Merlin. If he knows the location of your missing asses before you ask him, he’s only a prophet but you should run.

Creep into his study. How many crocodiles are there? There should be only one. It should be hanging from the ceiling. It will wink when you enter. If it doesn’t wink, it’s not Merlin.

If the owl in his study silently delivers messages, it belongs to some other wizard. If the owl vehemently denies being an owl, it’s Merlin’s.

If he suddenly disappears and you find yourself talking to a wise young boy, he’s trying to trick you but don’t be fooled—it’s Merlin.

If he complains about the electricity and you’re in the fifth century, it’s Merlin.

If he demonstrates surprising familiarity with the time and manner of your death and also his own, it’s Merlin.

If he makes mulberry trees appear out of nowhere and transforms the sky into a giant fish bowl—your brothers will mutter and cough—“Illusions!” they’ll say—but you can rest easy. It’s Merlin.

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