Merlin’s Prophecies Examined

In Le Morte D’Arthur, from his first appearance right up until his internment in rock at the start of Book IV, Merlin spouts a whole pile of predictions. I’ve counted forty-two of them, in fact! Join us, won’t we, as I go through these predictions and determine which were verified and which were just Merlin spouting nonsense!

Uther will impregnate Igraine the first time they sleep together, and she will bear a son.

TRUE. No doubting this one; it’s the linchpin of Arthur’s origin story.

If Uther gives that son to Merlin, it will ultimately be better for England than if he doesn’t.

PROBABLY TRUE. We don’t get to see the alternate timeline in which Uther tells Merlin to go hang, but it seems reasonable to think that it would be worse. If Uther dies at the same time in that timeline as he does in the actual story, the infant Arthur would be easy pickings for rival kings and warlords.

The man who can pull the sword from the stone (i.e. Arthur) is the rightful king.

TRUE. It is indeed Arthur who pulls the sword from the stone. It’s a basic conceit of the novel that Arthur is rightfully king.

Arthur will be king for many years, wise and successful, unless he dies fighting in a civil war at the start of his reign.

PROBABLY TRUE. Merlin here offers two scenarios: Arthur dying shortly after taking the throne, and Arthur ruling for many decades. One of those scenarios certainly comes to pass.

Arthur will find a treasure in Sherwood Forest.

UNCERTAIN. If Merlin meant Arthur would meet Lionors, the mother of his son Sir Borre, then he might have been more clear about it.

Mordred will eventually ruin everything for everyone.

MOSTLY TRUE. In Book XX, Mordred and his half-brother Sir Agravaine set into motion the events that result in civil war between Arthur and Launcelot, the dissolution of the Round Table, and the deaths of most of the cast.

Arthur will get a fine funeral; Merlin’s body will be tossed in a ditch.

UNCERTAIN. Arthur’s funeral in Book XXI is reasonable, under the circumstances. Merlin does not die during Le Morte D’Arthur, so we don’t know about his funeral.

Sir Griflet will die trying to stop Arthur’s best friend from saving the life of Arthur’s wife.

TRUE. This is exactly what happens, in Book XX.

Arthur will die before Merlin dies.

TRUE. Merlin is alive at the end of Book XXI; Arthur (probably) isn’t.

When Arthur dies he will go to Hell.

UNCERTAIN. Whether Arthur goes to Hell or not is unaddressed anywhere in Book XXI.

Pellinore will do Arthur at least one favor.

TRUE. Pellinore kills King Lot, rescues Nimue, and assists Arthur in deciding which knights to promote to the Round Table.

Pellinore’s sons Percivale and Lamorak will be the second-best and third-best knights.

PROBABLY TRUE. Percivale and Lamorak are both AAA, top-tier knights. Percivale is one of only three knights to achieve the Grail; Lamorak did not participate in the Grail quest as he was murdered beforehand.

Pellinore will warn Arthur about Mordred.

FALSE. Pellinore is slain years before Mordred becomes a problem.

Pellinore will become Arthur’s brother-in-law.

FALSE. None of Arthur’s half-sisters are ever described as marrying Pellinore. Pellinore is not, I’m pretty sure, Guenever’s brother.

The one who will destroy Arthur was born on the first of May.

TRUE. Mordred is included among the innocents Arthur massacres.

Tristram and Launcelot will fight inconclusively at the tomb of Sir Lanceor.

TRUE. This happens!

Because of Columbe’s death, Balin will strike the dolorous stroke.

TRUE. The causal connection to Columbe’s suicide isn’t clear, but certainly Sir Balin strikes the dolorous stroke.

When Sir Tristram is taken with his sovereign lady, then Mark shall learn Merlin’s name, and at that time shall hear tidings that shall not please him.

UNCERTAIN. For my own dramatic satisfaction I put Merlin’s name in Peter’s mouth in Book VIII, but Malory never addresses it.

If Balin doesn’t follow Merlin’s instructions, he won’t find Rience.

UNCERTAIN. While Balin does follow Merlin’s instructions and does find Rience, before Merlin appeared Balin seemed to have an idea where to search for Rience.

Balin won’t live long after turning Rience over to Arthur.

TRUE. He dies later in Book II.

Before Balin dies he’ll do Arthur at least one good turn.

PROBABLY TRUE. Most of Sir Balin’s activities in the back half of Book II don’t affect Arthur one way or another, but he does seek out Sir Herlews specifically at Arthur’s request.

Rience’s brother Nero will attempt to rescue/avenge him.

TRUE. Nero attacks in Book II.

The eternal flames at Lot’s tomb will extinguish when Merlin dies, just before the beginning of the Quest for the Holy Grail.

FALSE. Merlin does not die at any point, certainly not at the onset of the Grail-Quest in Book XIII, and Lot’s tomb is not mentioned again.

Pellinore will reappear after Book II’s battle with Lot.

TRUE. He shows back up once in Book IV.

Balin will be loyal to Arthur until his death.

TRUE. Certainly he doesn’t betray Arthur at any point.

Mordred will be present at a great battle at Salisbury.

PROBABLY TRUE. In Book XXI Malory fails to identify just where the massive battle between Mordred’s army and Arthur’s army takes place, but it could easily be Salisbury.

King Uriens knows Arthur’s distant cousin, King Bagdemagus.

UNCERTAIN. The significance of this is also unclear.

Sir Gawaine will kill King Pellinore in vengeance for Lot’s death.

TRUE. It happens offscreen, but it definitely happens.

Pellam survives the dolorous stroke and the ruination of Castle Corbin; he rebuilds but isn’t whole until Galahad heals him during the Quest for the Holy Grail.

TRUE. We see Pellam and Castle Corbin both again; Galahad does indeed heal him.

Launcelot will eschew the bed at Balin’s tomb.

FALSE. Malory never mentions Launcelot visiting Balin’s tomb.

Launcelot or Galahad will use Balin’s sword to slay Sir Gawaine.

FALSE. Galahad is already dead by the time Gawaine dies, and Launcelot is on another continent. Galahad injures Gawaine with Balin’s sword, but Merlin specifically said ‘slay.’

Arthur should not marry Guenever.

PROBABLY TRUE. Everyone would have been happier if she had still been single when she met Launcelot.

Guenever will have an affair with Sir Launcelot.

TRUE. Hoo-boy, yes.

Merlin “discovers” golden writing on the Round Table, naming the knights who sit there.

TRUE. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, since the knights see the names and take their seats, but it’s still a prophecy.

Tor, Pellinore’s son, will be a good knight.

TRUE. He’s at center stage only briefly, but he’s a good egg.

Only one man may sit in the Siege Perilous without being smote.

FALSE. Percivale and Galahad both sit at the Siege Perilous at different times.

Arthur must send Gawaine to track down the white hart, Tor to track down the white hound, and Pellinore to rescue Nimue.

UNCERTAIN. Nimue turns out to be crucial to the whole Camelot deal, but whether those particular knights had to be sent on those particular errands, lest everything fall apart? Unclear.

The woman who cut her own head off was Elaine, Pellinore’s illegitimate daughter by way of the Lady of the Rule; she was traveling with a Sir Miles, but then Loraine the Thug murdered him, and thus Pellinore shall one day be in great trouble and his best friend will lead him into peril and then abandon Pellinore just when Pellinore needs him most.

UNCERTAIN. We don’t know much about the circumstances of Pellinore’s death, only that Gawaine ambushed and slew him. Pellinore could have been double-crossed by a trusted friend, as part of that.

Merlin will soon go into the earth.

TRUE. He goes into the earth later that same chapter.

Nimue will trick Merlin into going into a magic cave, and seal him there.

TRUE. Again, it happens straightaway.

Launcelot will grow up, be a terrific knight, and win the war against Claudas.

MOSTLY TRUE. I don’t know that evidence supports Launcelot being especially crucial in Arthur’s defeat of Claudas, but certainly the boy grows up to be a coo-coo super knight.

Launcelot is actually his middle name; his first name is Galahad.

TRUE. To the extent that it matters…

Elaine (2, Launcelot’s mother) lives to witness Launcelot’s glory.

UNCERTAIN. Several women named Elaine die, but none of them are Launcelot’s mother (most are his lovers). Malory does not address how much longer this particular lives.

Total number of predictions: 43

Total number of predictions for which an outcome is known: 34.

Total true or mostly-true predictions: 28 of 34.

Total straight-up false predictions: 6 of 34.

And so Merlin is correct roughly four-fifths of the time. Whether this is good or bad, I couldn’t tell you. I do know that if I ever see him coming I’m going to walk the other way.

Index of Every Knight Name Ever

Every named knight, in order of first appearance or reference.

BOOK I

Uther Pendragon, King of Logris aka England aka Britain

Arthur, also King of Logris/England/Britain

Sir Ulfius

Sir Jordanus

Sir Brastias

King Lot of Orkney

King Nentres of Garlot

King Uriens of Gore

Sir Gawain, Lot’s son

Sir Uwain, Uriens’s son

Sir Ector (Arthur’s adoptive father)

Sir Kay (Arthur’s adoptive brother)

Sir Baudwin

King of Scotland

King of Carados

Mister 100, the King with a Hundred Knights

King Bors (senior) of Benwick, Ban’s brother

King Ban of France, Bors’s brother

King Claudas of King Claudas’s Lands

Sir Phariance

Sir Lionses

Sir Lucan aka Sir Lucas

Sir Griflet

Sir Ladinas

Sir Placidas

Gwenbaus, brother to Ban and Bors

King Brandegoris of Stranggore aka Morgamore aka Brangoris aka Brandegore

King Clariance of Northumberland

King Idres of Cornwall

King Cradelmas

King Agwisance of Ireland aka Anguish

Sir Borre, Arthur’s eldest illegitimate son

Rience, King of North Wales

King Leodegrance of Cameliard

Sir Balin

Sir Balan, Balin’s brother

Sir Mordred, Arthur’s second illegitimate son and also nephew

King Pellinore

Sir Miles

Sir Percivale, Pellinore’s son

Sir Lamorak, Pellinore’s son

Sir Egglame

Sir Naram

BOOK II

Sir Lanceor, Anguish’s son

King Mark of Cornwall

Sir Tristram, Mark’s nephew

Sir Launcelot de Lake, Ban’s son

Nero, Rience’s brother

Sir Hervis

Sir Accolon, Morgan le Fay’s lover

Garlon, the invisible murderer

Sir Herlews who just might be the same guy as Sir Hervis

Sir Perin

King Pellam of Castle Corbin, who might be the Fisher King

Duke Hermel

Sir Garnish of the Mount

BOOK III

Sir Tor

Sir Gaheris, Gawaine’s brother

Sir Sorlouse of the Forest

Sir Brian of the Forest

Sir Allardin of the Isles

Sir Ablamar of the Marsh

Sir Felot of Landuk

Sir Petipase of Winchelsea

Sir Abellus

Sir Hontzlake of Westland

Sir Meliot of Logris, Nimue’s cousin

Sir Brian of the Isles

Sir Miles of the Launds

Loraine the Thug

BOOK IV

Sir Galagars

The King of the Lake

Sir Bagdemagus, later King Bagdemagus

Sir Damas

Sir Ontzlake, his brother

Sir Manassen

Sir Marhaus, brother of Lanceor and the lovely Isoud

Sir Pellas the Good, beloved of Nimue

Sir Carados (no relation)

The Duke of the Southern Marches

Earl Fergus

Sir Edward of the Red Castle

Sir Hue of the Red Castle

BOOK V

Sir Cador of Cornwall

Sir Bedivere, Sir Lucan’s brother

Sir Constantine, Arthur’s heir

Sir Lionel of Benwick

Emperor Lucius Caesar

Sir Gainus, Lucius’s retainer

Caliburn of Pavie

Sir Feldenak

The King of Lyly

Lord Aladuke

Lord Herawd

Lord Heringdale

Sir Beryl, who suffers a posthumous ice-burn

Sir Morris

Sir Maurel

Sir Leomie

Sir Florence

Sir Wisshard, the worst knight name

Sir Clegis

Sir Cleremond

Sir Priamus

Sir Floridas

Sir Ferrant

Sir Ethelwold

The Duke of Dutchmen

Sir Chestaline, Gawaine’s youthful ward

BOOK VI

Sir Turquine

Sir Ector de Maris, aka Ector the Lesser

Sir Bellus

Sir Mador de la Porte

Sir Gahalantine

Sir Peris of the Thuggish Woods

Sir Gaunter or Gauntere

Sir Gilmere

Sir Raynold or Reynold

Sir Sagramour the Lusty aka Sagramour le Desirous

Sir Gilbert the Bastard

Sir Phelot

Sir Pedivere

BOOK VII

Sir Gareth aka Beaumains aka Sir Prettyboy

Sir Breunor

Sir Percard, the Red Knight of the Red Lands

Sir Pertolepe, the Black Knight of the Black Lands

Sir Perimones, the Green Knight of the Green Lands

Sir Wade

Sir Lamorak

Sir Persant, the Indigo Knight of the Indigo Lands

Sir Blamore de Ganis, Launcelot’s cousin

Sir Bleoberis de Ganis, Blamore’s brother

Sir Bors de Ganis aka Sir Bors Junior, Launcelot’s other cousin

Sir Palomides ala Palamides, the Muslim knight

Sir Safere

Sir Ironside, the other Red Knight of the Red Lands (not Sir Percard, a different guy)

Sir Gringamore

Sir Grummore Grummursum

Sir Dinas, not the same knight as Sir Dinadan, Sir Dodinas, or Sir Dinant

Sir Sadok

Sir Dodinas le Savage aka Dodinas the Thug, not the same knight as Sir Dinas, Sir Dinadan, or Sir Dinant

Sir Galihodin

Sir Galihud

Sir Dinadan, not the same knight as Sir Dinas, Sir Dodinas, or Sir Dinant

Sir Meliaganus aka Meliagrance

Sir Galahault aka Galahad (but not the one you’re thinking of)

Sir Brandiles

Sir Uwain’s brother of the same name

Sir Godelake

Sir Epinogrus

Sir Malegrin

Sir Segwarides, brother of Sir Safere and Sir Palomides

Duke de la Rowse

Sir Bendelaine

The Brown Knight without Pity

BOOK VIII

King Meliodas, Tristram’s father

Howel, king of Brittany

Sir Lambegus, Tristram’s first henchman

Sir Sentraille de Lushon, Tristram’s second henchman

Sir Andred

Sir Adtherp

Gouvernail, Tristram’s tutor/henchman

Sir Famous Hebes, aka Sir Hebes le Renoumes

Sir Li’l Gumret, aka Gumret le Petit

Sir Morganor

Pitiless Bruce, aka Breuse Sans Pity

Sir Kehydius, son of Howel and brother of Isoud the White

Earl Grip

Sir Suppinabiles

Sir Nabon the Black

Sir Nanowne the Short aka Sir Nanowne la Petit

Sir Frol of the Outer Islands

Sir Belliance the Orgulous, Frol’s brother

BOOK IX

Sir Gingalin, Gawaine’s son

Sir Fergus, Tristram’s third henchman

Sir Dagonet, Arthur’s jester

Sir Matto

Sir Tauleas, a giant

Sir Dinant, not the same knight as Sir Dinadan, Sir Dinas, or Sir Dodinas

Sir Driant

Sir “Kid” Pellinore, no relation

Sir Pellounes the elderly

Sir Persides, his son

Sir Hew

Sir Madok

Sir Darras

Sir Daname, Darras’s nephew

Sir Hemison, Morgan’s lover

BOOK X

Sir Bersules

Sir Amant

Sir Alein, Trian’s brother

Sir Trian, Alein’s brother

Sir Berluse

Sir “Big Heart” Ozanna

Sir “Good Uwaine” Uwaine

Sir Percivale

Sir Aglovale

Sir Dornar

Sir Dalan

Sir Fergus

Eliot, the harper

Sir Elias

Sir Argius, Mark’s cousin

Sir Boudwin, Mark’s brother

Sir Alisander

Sir Bellangere

Malgrin the knight-ogre

Sir Elias from Gomeret

Sir Cari from Gomeret

Sir Guy from Cameliard

Sir Garaunt from Cameliard

Sir Gerine the Overweight aka Gerine le Grose

Duke Ansirus the Pilgrim

Sir Harsouse of Berbuse

Sir Hewgon

Sir Harvis of the Marches

Sir Vains

Sir Perin of Montaine

Sir Bellengerus le Beuse

Sir Sauseise

Sir Archade

Sir Goneries

Sir Semound

Sir Archade

King Marsil of Pomitain

Sir Breuse

Duke Chaleins of Clarance

Sir Elis the Black

Sir Corsabrin the Muslim

Sir Gerin

Sir Ossaise

Sir Dornard

Earl Ulbawes

Duke Cambines

Sir Aristance

Earl Lambile

King Hermance

Sir Ebel

Sir Helius

Sir Herlake

Sir Hermind

King of Listinoise

King of the best part of Wales with many other countries

Sir Weird Kainus, aka Sir Kainus le Strange

King Astlabor

Sir “Valiant” Helior aka Helior le Preuse

Sir Galleron of Galway

Sir “Rough” Melion aka Melion de Tartare

Sir Goodewin

Sir Gawdelin

BOOK XI

Sir Bliant

Sir Selivant

Sir Bertelot

Sir Castor

BOOK XII

Sir Nerovens

Sir Plaine the Forceful aka Plaine de Fors aka Plaine de Force

Sir Plaine the Lusty aka Plaine de Amours

Sir Plenorius

Sir Pillounes

Sir Pellogris

Sir Pallandris

BOOK XIII

Lord Vagon

Sir Melias of Lile

Tricky Tolleme aka Tolleme la Feintes

King Evelake aka King Mordrains

BOOK XV

Aguarus

Earl de Vale

Sir Nappus

Sir Nacien

Sir Big Helias, aka Helias le Grose

Sir Lisais

Sir Lonas

Sir Manuel

Sir Eliazar

King Harlon

Sir Argustus

Sir Pale Elian aka Helin aka Elian le Blanc

Sir Pridam

King Aniause

The Earl of Plaines

Sir Hervin

Sir Colgrevance

BOOK XVII

King Labor

King Hurlame

King Solomon the Wise, from the Bible

Josua, Solomon’s nephew

King David, also from the Bible

Lord Earl Hernox

Simeon

Sir Eliazar

Sir Claudine

King Estorause

BOOK XIX

Sir Bernard

Sir Tirre

Sir Lavaine

Sir Alphegus

Sir Urre

From the Public Domain: Mark Twain on Malory

“The truth is, Alisande, these archaics are a little too simple; the vocabulary is too limited, and so, by consequence, descriptions suffer in the matter of variety; they run too much to level Saharas of fact, and not enough to picturesque detail; this throws about them a certain air of the monotonous; in fact the fights are all alike: a couple of people come together with great random – random is a good word, and so is exegesis, for that matter, and so is holocaust, and defalcation, and usufruct and a hundred others, but land! a body ought to discriminate – they come together with great random, and a spear is brast, and one party brake his shield and the other one goes down, horse and man, over his horse-tail and brake his neck, and then the next candidate comes randoming in, and brast his spear, and the other man brast his shield, and down he goes, horse and man, over his horse-tail, and brake his neck, and then there’s another elected, and another and another and still another, till the material is all used up; and when you come to figure up results, you can’t tell one fight from another, nor who whipped; and as a picture, of living, raging, roaring battle, sho! why, it’s pale and noiseless – just ghosts scuffling in a fog. Dear me, what would this barren vocabulary get out of the mightiest spectacle? – the burning of Rome in Nero’s time, for instance? Why, it would merely say, ‘Town burned down; no insurance; boy brast a window, fireman brake his neck!’ Why, that ain’t a picture!”

From a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889). As the maiden Alisande tells the narrator the tale of Sir Uwaine and Sir Gawaine’s meeting with Sir Marhaus, in Book IV, quoting Malory verbatim, the narrator provides this critique.


Comments

Supplementary material for volume two — No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *