I am an old man now, but then I was already past my prime when Arthur was crowned King. The years since then seem to me now more dim and faded than the earlier years, as if my life were a growing tree which burst to flower and leaf with him, and now has nothing more to do than yellow to the grave.

This is true of all old men, that the recent past is misted, while distant scenes of memory are clear and brightly coloured. Even the scenes of my far childhood come back to me now sharp and high-coloured and edged with brightness, like the pattern of a fruit tree against a white wall, or banners in sunlight against a sky of storm.

The colours are brighter than they were, of that I are sure. The memories that come back to me here in the dark are seen with the new young eyes of childhood; they are so far gone from me, with their pain no longer present, that they unroll like pictures of something that happened, not to me, not to the bubble of bone that this memory used to inhabit, but to another Merlin as young and light and free of the air and spring winds as the bird she named me for.

With the later memories it is different; they come back, some of them, hot and shadowed, things seen in the fire. For this is where I gather them. This is one of the few trivial tricks – I cannot call it power–left to me now that I am old and stripped at last down to man. I can see still. . . not clearly or with the call of trumpets as I once did, but in the child’s way of dreams and pictures in the fire. I can still make the flames burn up or die; it is one of the simplest of magics, the most easily learned, the last forgotten. What I cannot recall in dream I see in the flames, the red heart of the fire or the countless mirrors of the crystal cave.

The first memory of all is dark and fireshot. It is not my own memory, but later you will understand how I know these things. You would call it not memory so much as a dream of the past, something in the blood, something recalled from him, it may be, while he still bore me in his body. I believe that such things can be. So it seems to me right that I should start with him who was before me, and who will be again when I am gone.

This is what happened that night. I saw it, and it is a true tale.

Mary Stewart
The Crystal Cave

I work slowly, I agree. I try to write poetically, and without cliché. Thirty years ago a good friend, and fine writer a generation older than me, dissected one of my short stories, showing me just how much cliché I was using. It was the best lesson I ever had! After that, I decided to try and establish a strongly poetic prose, with deliberate use of repetition of imagery, and phrases, and a certain ‘rhyming’ style. You will read this at its most deliberate in Lavondyss.

I don’t always refer to the classics for inspiration, though sometimes I find a theme there, or a reference point. Merlin’s Wood and the Merlin Codexx are inspired by our poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. Indeed, when I read his poem ‘Ulysses’, the last few lines became the rock on which I could build the thematic structure of the Merlin Codex books. I had had the idea before that, though.

You ask me about the play Medea by Euripides. This was certainly inspirational in the Codex idea: the performance I saw showed Medea’s sons being brutally murdered by their mother. After their deaths, on stage, they lay in a glass coffin, covered with blood. The young actors were talking, squirming around, and giggling together, even as the rage and anger of the play unfolded on the main stage. The audience was amused.

And it occurred to me that Medea, a loving mother, might only have pretended to kill her sons by Jason. If so: where would she have hidden them? And what if their father Jason discovered they were still alive?

The rest came naturally: Jason rebuilds his ship, Argo, and recruits new Argonauts. And one Argonaut is Merlin, a semi-immortal man wandering the world. This Merlin is the same Merlin whom I had introduced in the mid 90s, in Merlin’s Wood.

So the new books became an extension of the old book, just as Merlin’s Wood itself was an extension of the Mythago Cycle of novels. And Jason, in the new work, is the same Jason who appears in The Hollowing, the third Mythago book. Thus do ideas connect across the years of imagination.

The research I did for Celtika was mainly into the legendary invasion of Greece by a massive army of Celtic tribes, drawn from all over the ancient world at the time. They raided the oracle at Delphi, but with little success. I tried to make a prose style that shifted between the ‘heroic’ style of our own Celtic literature and the ‘heroic’ style of ancient Greek literature. Of course, I can only refer to translations; but it was enormous fun to play with both traditions and styles of narrative. The Iron Grail is a conscious recreation of the narrative style of an early Irish epic, The Cattle Raid, one of the most brilliant accounts of warfare, combat, gods, spirits and Celtic royalty ever written; it is a miracle and a delight that the ancient text has survived into the modern age.

Robert Holdstock
Interviewed by Octavio Aragao. 17th July 2008