The Lost Years (Merlin Saga Series #1)

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Overview

A young boy who has no identity nor memory of his past washes ashore on the coast of Wales and finds his true name after a series of fantastic adventures.

Previously published as The Lost Years of Merlin.

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The Lost Years: Book 1

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Overview

A young boy who has no identity nor memory of his past washes ashore on the coast of Wales and finds his true name after a series of fantastic adventures.

Previously published as The Lost Years of Merlin.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this coming-of-age fantasy, Barron (The Merlin Effect) investigates what he perceives as the mystery of the great enchanter's little-mentioned childhood and adolescence. Merlin himself narrates, at first in realistic mode as a child called Emrys in a grubby village in Wales, where he had washed ashore five years earlier; he is haunted by his inability to remember his earlier life. After some misadventures when his supernatural powers develop, he decides to set about "finding my past, my identity." Somehow he makes his way across the ocean to Fincayra, a strange place not quite of this world. There he gets drawn into a great conflict between good and evil, and the story mutates into a high fantasy quest populated by weird and mythic creatures. This part of the tale draws heavily on the Welsh Mabinogion; some of Merlin's adventures thus resemble Taran's in Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, which also uses that body of legend. Merlin learns of his Fincayran birthright, but in the clumsily handled conclusion he looks off into the future (and to the planned sequel), having decided that although he has found his past and his identity he has not found his "true home." Some readersmostly teens or adultswill be looking eagerly with him. Others may find this attempt to create a biography for Merlin less of an organic novel than a showcase for the author's deft recycling of Welsh myth. Ages 8-up. (Sept.)
Children's Literature
T.A. Barron asked the question, "What was the great Merlin like as a child?" and from that sprang this first book of a five-book series that explores the answer. The author has created a world rich in characters and settings, which allows young Merlin to begin his journey to great power. As the novel opens, a boy without a name, without a home, and without a memory is determined to find all three. Emrys, as he calls himself, discovers that he possesses a magical power stronger than himself. When he uses this power for hate, he suffers by losing his eyesight. He soon discovers that he has a second sight that allows him to see in a different way. Because he is determined to continue his quest to find the three things he desires, Emrys goes to the land of Fincayra, an island thought to exist only in myth. There Emrys finds some answers and a purpose to his quest. This book is wonderful because the conflict facing Emrys is not only from outside forces but also from within. The plot line is convoluted, detailed, and gripping. This is a great read-aloud book for late elementary and middle school students. 2002 (orig. 1999), Philomel Books/Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, Ages 10 to 14.
— Sarah Beasley
Children's Literature - Judy Silverman
This book traces the legendary wizard's life from the moment he finds himself washed up on a beach with no memory of his past. He's even lost his name. He's picked up by Branwen, who wants him to believe he's her child. He finds his way to the magical island of Fincayr, where his powers are tested. By hard work and great good fortune, he finds all that was lost. This is a good read for older children and adults who haven't given up the magic of Arthurian legends, and a great read-aloud for younger kids.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8This first installment in a planned trilogy about Merlin's shadowy youth takes some intriguing twists. Young Emrys washes up on a Welsh beach with a woman who claims to be his mother. For years, they share a hovel, but Branwen tells him nothing about his past. One day he discovers that he has some unusual powers; using them to kindle a fire in Branwen's defense, he is blinded by the flames. However, he learns to see without eyesusing his "second sight." Desperate to know about his past, Emrys, now 12, sets off on an ocean journey. He lands on Fincayra, where he plunges into a dangerous quest to rescue the island from the destructive blight caused by a pact between its king and an evil power. In the process, he befriends a young Fincayran girl and a dwarf who becomes a giant through a brave deed. Emrys also learns the truth about his origins. The Fincayran portion of the story is very much like Lloyd Alexander's "Prydain Chronicles": a young boy and girl team up with a cute non-human to save a kingdom from the force of evil, with Welsh-style names abounding. Also, while the characterization of the hero is excellent, the portrayal of some minor figures is fair at best. However, the fast-moving plot is sure to keep readers turning pages. The tale is compelling enough to ensure that they will anticipate the next book in the series to learn how the events ultimately tie in to the more familiar body of Arthurian legend.Mary Jo Drungil, Niles Public Library District, IL
School Library Journal
Gr 5 Up-This engrossing presentation of T.A. Barron's fascinating contribution to Arthurian lore (Philomel, 1996), is the first in a trilogy about Merlin's boyhood and coming of age. From the moment young Merlin is washed ashore on a beach in ancient Wales to his exciting journey to the enchanted land of Fincayra, the action never wavers. Actor Michael Cumpsty's deep, growling voice enlivens the drama, making this powerful story all the more compelling. The ingredients of delectable fantasy are at work here--magic, adventure, Celtic folklore, Druid spiritualism, well-developed characters--in a format that really delivers. Fans of Arthurian legend will not want to miss this quality audiobook about one of the grandest wizards ever.-Celeste Steward, Contra Costa County Library, Clayton, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
T.A. Barron's The Lost Years Of Merlin is the story of a strange young boy who washed up on the shores of ancient Wales, determined to find his real home and his true name. One day he will become the greatest wizard of all time -- but he knows nothing of this in the beginning. Wonderfully narrated by Michael Cumpsty for listeners of all ages, this Listening Library edition is totally engaging, entertaining, unabridged addition to the Merlin legend is flawless produced, and has a running time of 8 hours.
Kirkus Reviews
Barron (The Merlin Effect, 1994, etc.) transforms the early years of the mythical wizard's life into a vivid, action-filled fantasy, replete with deep forests, ruined castles, and evil spells: a promising first installment of a projected trilogy.

Although Emrys, 12-year-old son of Branwen, has fantastic powers, he is also a charismatic and sympathetic character; many readers will no doubt empathize with his self-pity, awkwardness, and the tense relationship he shares with his mother, a witch. But Barron never forgets his hero's destiny, and so when Emrys defends his mother from the flames of an angry mob by telekinetically burning the town bully, he leaps into the fire to save the boy and loses his own eyesight. Recovering in an abbey from his burns, Emrys develops second sight, vows to never again use his powers in anger, and sets out to learn his destiny. Along the way, he meets Rhia, who is brave, intelligent, and resourceful, and who enlists his aid in the war that forms the final steps toward adulthood that Emrys—now Merlin—takes. While Barron is careful to show that Merlin is still physically a boy, readers are left with a vision of a more confident, compassionate hero, prepared to confront the joys and sorrows that await him in future volumes.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142418895
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication date: 5/12/2011
  • Series: Merlin Saga Series , #1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 93,558
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 7.58 (w) x 5.08 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

T. A. Barron

T.A. Barron is the award-winning author of fantasy novels such as The Lost Years of Merlin epic—soon to be a major motion picture. He serves on a variety of environmental and educational boards including The Nature Conservancy and The Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, and is the founder of a national award for heroic children. Following a life-changing decision to leave a successful business career to write full-time in 1990, Barron has written seventeen books, but is happiest when on the mountain trails with his wife, Currie, and their five children.

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Read an Excerpt

Prologue If I close my eyes, and breathe to the rolling rhythm of the sea, I can still remember that long ago day. Harsh, cold, and lifeless it was, as empty of promise as my lungs were empty of air.
Since that day, I have seen many others, more than I have the strength left to count. Yet that day glows as bright as the Galator itself, as bright as the day I found my own name, or the day I first cradled a baby who bore the name Arthur. Perhaps I remember it so clearly because the pain, like a scar on my soul, will not disappear. Or because it marked the ending of so much. Or, perhaps, because it marked a beginning as well as an ending: the beginning of my lost years. A dark wave rose on the rolling sea, and from it lifted a hand.
As the wave surged higher, reaching toward sky as smoky gray as itself, the hand reached higher as well. A bracelet of foam swirled around the wrist, while desperate fingers groped for something they could not find. It was the hand of someone small. It was the hand of someone weak, too weak to fight any longer.
It was the hand of a boy.
With a deep sucking sound, the wave began to crest, tilting steadily toward the shore. For an instant it paused, hovering between ocean and land, between the brooding Atlantic and the perilous, rock-bound coast of Wales, known in those days as Gwynedd. Then the sucking swelled into a crashing roar as the wave toppled over, hurling the boy's limp body onto the black rocks.
His head smacked against a stone, so violently that his skull would surely have split open were it not for the thick mat of hair that covered it. He lay completely still, except when the whoosh of air from the next wave tousled his locks, black beneath the stains of blood.
A shabby seagull, seeing his motionless form, hopped over the jumble of rocks for a closer look. Bending its beak toward the boy's face, it tried to pull a strand of sea kelp that was wrapped around his ear. The bird tugged and twisted, squawking angrily.
At last the kelp broke free. Triumphantly, the bird jumped down to one of the boy's bare arms. Beneath the shreds of a brown tunic still clinging to him, he seemed small, even for a boy of seven years. Yet something about his facefithe shape of his brow, perhaps, or the lines around his eyes-seemed far older.
At that instant, he coughed, vomited seawater, and coughed again. With a screech, the gull dropped the kelp and fluttered off to a stony perch.
The boy remained motionless for a moment. All he could taste was sand, slime, and vomit. All he could feel was the painful throbbing of his head, and the rocks jabbing into his shoulders. Then came another cough, another gush of seawater. A halting, labored breath. Then a second breath, and a third. Slowly, his slender hand clenched into a fist. Waves surged an d subsided, surged and subsided. For a long while, the small candle flame of life in him wavered at the edge of darkness. Beneath the throbbing, his mind seemed strangely empty. Almost as if he had lost a piece of his very self. Or as if a kind of wall had been erected, cutting him off from a portion of himself, leaving nothing but a lingering sense of fear.
His breathing slowed. His fist relaxed. He gasped, as if to cough again, but instead fell still.
Cautiously, the seagull edged closer.
Then, from whatever quarter, a thin thread of energy began to move through his body. Something inside him was not yet ready to die. He stirred again, breathed again.
The gull froze.
He opened his eyes. Shivering with cold, he rolled to his side. Feeling the rough sand in his mouth, he tried to spit, but succeeded only in making himself gag from the rancid taste of kelp and brine.
With effort, he raised an arm and wiped his mouth with the tatters of his tunic. Then he winced, feeling the raw lump on the back of his head. Willing himself to sit up, he braced his elbow against a rock and pushed himself upright.
He sat there, listening to the grinding and splashing sea. Beyond the ceaseless pulsing of the waves, beyond the pounding inside his head, he thought for an instant that he could hear something else-a voice, perhaps. A voice from some other time, some other place, though he could not remember where.
With a sudden jolt, he realized that he could not remember anything. Where he had come from. His mother. His father. His name. His own name. Hard as he tried, he could not remember. His own name.
"Who am I?"
Hearing his cry, the gull squawked and took flight.
Catching sight of his reflection in a pool of water, he paused to look. A strange face, belonging to a boy he did not know, peered back at him. His eyes, like his hair, were as black as coal, with scattered flecks of gold. His ears, which were almost triangular and pointed at the top, seemed oddly large for the rest of his face. Likewise, his brow rose high above his eyes. Yet his nose looked narrow and slight, more a beak than a nose. Altogether, his face did not seem to belong to itself.
He mustered his strength and rose to his feet. Head swirling, he braced himself against a pinnacle of rock until the dizziness calmed.
His eyes roamed over the desolate coastline. Rocks upon rocks lay scattered everywhere, making a harsh black barrier to the sea. The rocks parted in only one place-and then only grudgingly-around the roots of an ancient oak tree. Its gray bark peeling, the old oak faced the ocean with the stance of centuries. There was a deep hollow in its trunk, gouged out by fire ages ago. Age warped its every branch, twisting some into knots. Yet it continued to stand, roots anchored, immutable against storm and sea. Behind the oak stood a dark grove of younger trees, and behind them, high cliffs loomed even darker.
Desperately, the boy searched the landscape for anything he might recognize, anything that might coax his memory to return. He recognized nothing.
He turned, despite the stinging salt spray, to the open sea. Waves rolled and toppled, one after another after another. Nothing but endless gray billows as far as he could see. He listened again for the mysterious voice, but heard only the distant call of a kittiwake perched on the cliffs.
Had he come from somewhere out there, beyond the sea?
Vigorously, he rubbed his bare arms to stop the shivers. Spying a loose clump of sea kelp on a rock, he picked it up. Once, he knew, this formless mass of green had danced with its own graceful rhythm, before being uprooted and cast adrift. Now it hung limp in his hand. He wondered why he himself had been uprooted, and from where.
A low, moaning sound caught his ear. That voice again! It came from the rocks beyond the old oak tree.
He lurched forward in the direction of the voice. For the first time he noticed a dull ache between his shoulder blades. He could only assume that his back, like his head, had slammed against the rocks. Yet the ache felt somehow deeper, as if something beneath his shoulders had been torn away long ago.
After several halting steps he made it to the ancient tree. He leaned against its massive trunk, his heart pounding. Again he heard the mysterious moaning. Again he set off.
Often his bare feet would slip on the wet rocks, pitching him sideways. Stumbling along, his torn brown tunic flapping about his legs, he resembled an ungainly water bird, picking his way across the shoreline. Yet all the time he knew what he really was: a lone boy, with no name and no home.
Then he saw her. Crumpled among the stones lay the body of a woman, her face beside a surging tidal pool. Her long, unbraided hair, the color of a yellow summer moon, spread about her head like rays of light. She had strong cheekbones and a complexion that would be described as creamy were it not tinged with blue. Her long blue robe, torn in places, was splotched with sand and sea kelp. Yet the quality of the wool, as well as the jeweled pendant on a leather cord around her neck, revealed her to have been once a woman of wealth and stature.
He rushed forward. The woman moaned again, a moan of inextinguishable pain. He could almost feel her agony, even as he could feel his own hopes rising. Do I know her? he asked himself as he bent over her twisted body. Then, from a place of deeper longing, Does she know me?
With a single finger he touched her cheek, as cold as the cold sea. He watched her take several short, labored breaths. He listened to her wretched moaning. And, with a sigh, he admitted to himself that she was, for him, a complete stranger.
Still, as he studied her, he could not suppress the hope that she might have arrived on this shore together with him. If she had not come on the same wave, then at least she might have come from the same place. Perhaps, if she lived, she might be able to fill the empty cup of his memory. Perhaps she knew his very name! Or the names of his mother and father. Or perhaps ... she might actually be his mother.
A frigid wave slapped against his legs. His shivers returned, even as his hopes faded. She might not live, and even if she did, she probably would not know him. And she certainly could not be his mother. That was too much to hope for. Besides, she could not have looked less like him. She looked truly beautiful, even at the edge of death, as beautiful as an angel. And he had seen his own reflection. He knew what he looked like. Less like an angel than a bedraggled, half-grown demon.
A snarl erupted from behind his back.
The boy whirled around. His stomach clenched. There, in the shadows of the dark grove, stood an enormous wild boar. A low, vicious growl vibrating in its throat, the boar stepped out of the trees. Bristling brown fur covered its entire body except for the eyes and a gray scar snaking down its left foreleg. Its tusks, sharp as daggers, were blackened with the blood of a previous kill. More frightening, though, were its red eyes, which glowed like hot coals.
The boar moved smoothly, almost lightly, despite its hulking form. The boy stepped backward. This beast outweighed him several times over. One kick of its leg would send him sprawling. One stab of its tusk would rip his flesh to shreds. Abruptly the boar stopped and hunched its muscular shoulders, preparing to charge.
Glancing behind, the boy could see only the onrushing waves of the ocean. No escape that way. He grabbed a crooked shard of driftwood to use as a weapon, though he knew it would not even begin to pierce the boar's hide. Even so, he tried to plant his feet on the slippery rocks, bracing for the attack.
Then he remembered. The hollow in the old oak! Although the tree stood about halfway between him and the boar, he might be able to get there first.
He started to dash for the tree, then suddenly caught himself. The woman. He could not just leave her there. Yet his own chance for safety depended on speed. Grimacing, he tossed aside the driftwood and grabbed her limp arms.
Straining his trembling legs, he tried to pull her free from the rocks. Whether from all the water she had swallowed or from the weight of death upon her, she felt as heavy as the rocks themselves. Finally, under the glaring eyes of the boar, she budged. The boy began dragging her toward the tree. Sharp stones cut into his feet. Heart racing, head throbbing, he pulled with all his power.
The boar snarled again, this time more like a raspy laugh. The whole body of the beast tensed, nostrils flaring and tusks gleaming. Then it charged.
Though the boy was only a few feet from the tree, something kept him from running. He snatched a squarish stone from the ground and hurled it at the boar's head. Only an instant before reaching them, the boar changed direction. The stone whizzed past and clattered on the ground.
Amazed that he could have possibly daunted the beast, the boy quickly bent to retrieve another stone. Then, sensing some movement over his shoulder, he spun around.
Out of the bushes behind the ancient oak bounded an immense stag. Bronze in hue, except for the white boots on each leg that shone like purest quartz, the stag lowered its great rack of antlers. With the seven points on each side aimed like so many spears, the stag leaped at the boar. But the beast swerved aside just in time to dodge the thrust.
As the boar careened and snarled ferociously, the stag leaped once again. Seizing the moment, the boy dragged the limp woman into the hollow of the tree. By folding her legs tight against her chest, he pushed her entirely into the opening. The wood, still charred from some ancient fire, curled around her like a great black shell. He wedged himself into the small space beside her, as the boar and the stag circled each other, pawing the ground and snorting wrathfully.
Eyes aflame, the boar feigned a charge at the stag, then bolted straight at the tree. Hunched in the hollow, the boy drew back as far as he could. Yet his face remained so close to the gnarled bark of the opening that he still could feel the boar's hot breath as its tusks slashed wildly at the trunk. One of the tusks grazed the boy's face, gashing him just below the eye.
At that moment the stag plowed into the flank of the boar. The bulky beast flew into the air and landed on its side near the bushes. Blood oozing from a punctured thigh, the boar scrambled to its feet.
The stag lowered its head, poised to leap again. Hesitating for a split second, the boar snarled one final time before retreating into the trees. With majestic slowness, the stag turned toward the boy. For a brief moment, their eyes met. Somehow the boy knew that he would remember nothing from that day so clearly as the bottomless brown pools of the stag's unblinking eyes, eyes as deep and mysterious as the ocean itself.
Then, as swiftly as it had appeared, the stag leaped over the twisted roots of the oak and vanished from sight. Part One A Living Eye I stand alone, beneath the stars.
The entire sky ignites into flame, as if a new sun is being born. People shriek and scatter. But I stand there, unable to move, unable to breathe. Then I see the tree, darker than a shadow against the flaming sky. Its burning branches writhe like deadly serpents. They reach for me. The fiery branches come closer. I try to escape, but my legs are made of stone. My face is burning! I hide my eyes. I scream.
My face! My face is burning!
I awoke. Perspiration stung my eyes. Straw from my pallet scratched against my face.
Blinking, I drew a deep breath and wiped my face with my hands. They felt cool against my cheeks.
Stretching my arms, I felt again that pain between my shoulder blades. Still there! I wished it would go away. Why should it still bother me now, more than five years since the day I had washed ashore? The wounds to my head had long since healed, though I still remembered nothing of my life before being thrown on the rocks. So why should this wound last so much longer? I shrugged. Like so much else, I would never know.
I started to stuff some loose straw back into the pallet when my fingers uncovered an ant, dragging the body of a worm several times its size. I watched, almost laughing, as the ant tried to climb straight up the miniature mountain of straw. It could have easily gone around one side or another. But no. Some mysterious motive drove it to try, spill over backward, try again, and spill again. For several minutes I watched this repeating performance.
At last I took pity on the little fellow. I reached for one of its legs, then realized that it might twist off, especially if the ant struggled. So I picked up the worm instead. Just as I expected, the ant clung to it, kicking frantically.
I carried the ant and its prize up and over the straw, dropping them gently on the other side. To my surprise, when I released my hold on the worm, so did the ant. It turned toward me, waving its tiny antennae wildly. I caught the distinct feeling that I was being scolded.
"My apologies," I whispered through my grin. The ant scolded me for a few more seconds. Then it bit into the worm and started to drag the heavy load away. To its home.
My grin faded. Where could I find my own home? I would drag behind me this whole pallet, this whole hut if necessary, if only I knew where to go.
Turning to the open window above my head, I saw the full moon, glowing as bright as a pot of molten silver. Moonlight poured through the window, and through the gaps in the thatched roof, painting the interior of the hut with its gleaming brush. For a moment, the moonlight nearly disguised the poverty of the room, covering the earthen floor with a sheath of silver, the rough clay walls with sparkles of light, the still-sleeping form in the corner with the glow of an angel.
Yet I knew that it was all an illusion, no more real than my dream. The floor was just dirt, the bed just straw, the dwelling just a hovel made of twigs bound with clay. The covered pen for the geese next door had been constructed with more care! I knew, for I sometimes hid myself in there, when the honking and hissing of geese sounded more to my liking than the howling and chattering of people. The pen stayed warmer than this hut in February, and drier in May. Even if I did not deserve any better than the geese, no one could doubt that Branwen did.
I watched her sleeping form. Her breathing, so subtle that it hardly lifted her woolen blanket, seemed calm and peaceful. Alas, I knew better. While peace might visit her in sleep, it escaped her in waking life.
She shifted in her slumber, rolling her face toward mine. In the lunar light she looked even more beautiful than usual, her creamy cheeks and brow thoroughly relaxed, as they were only on such nights when she slept soundly. Or in her moments of silent prayer, which happened more and more often.
I frowned at her. If only she would speak. Tell me what she knew. For if she did know anything about our past, she had refused to discuss it. Whether that was because she truly did not know, or because she simply did not want me to know, I could never tell. And, in the five years we had shared this hut, she had revealed little more about herself. But for the kind touch of her hand and the ever present sorrow at the back of her eyes, I hardly knew her at all. I only knew that she was not my mother, as she claimed.
How could I be so sure that she was not my mother? Somehow, in my heart, I knew. She was too distant, too secretive. Surely a mother, a real mother, wouldn't hide so much from her own son. And if I needed any more assurance, I had only to look at her face. So lovely-and so very different from my own. There was no hint of black in those eyes, nor of points on those ears! No, I was no more her son than the geese were my siblings.
Nor could I believe that her real name was Branwen, and that mine was Emrys, as she had tried to convince me. Whatever names we had possessed before the sea had spat us out on the rocks, I felt sure somehow that they were not those. As many times as she had called me Emrys, I could not shake the feeling that my true name was ... something else. Yet I had no idea where to look for the truth, except perhaps in the wavering shadows of my dreams.
The only times that Branwen, if that was really her name, would show even a hint of her true self were when she told me stories. Especially the stories of the ancient Greeks. Those tales were clearly her favorites. And mine, too. Whether she knew it or not, some part of her seemed to come alive when she spoke of the giants and gods, the monsters and quests, in the Greek myths.
True, she also enjoyed telling tales of the Druid healers, or the miracle worker from Galilee. But her stories about the Greek gods and goddesses brought a special light into her sapphire eyes. At times, I almost felt that telling these stories was her way of talking about a place that she believed really existed-a place where strange creatures roamed the land and great spirits mingled with humans. The whole notion seemed foolish to me, but apparently not to her.
A sudden flash of light at her throat curtailed my thoughts. I knew that it was only the light of the moon reflected in her jeweled pendant, still hanging from the leather cord about her neck, although the green color seemed richer tonight than ever before. I realized that I had never seen her take the pendant off, not even for an instant.
Something tapped on the dirt behind me. I turned to see a bundle of dried leaves, slender and silvery in the moonlight, bound with a knot of grass. It must have fallen from the ridge beam above, which supported not only the thatch but also dozens of clusters of herbs, leaves, flowers, roots, nuts, bark shavings, and seeds. These were only a portion of Branwen's collection, for many more bundles hung from the window frame, the back of the door, and the tilting table beside her pallet.
Because of the bundles, the whole hut smelled of thyme, beech root, mustard seed, and more. I loved the aromas. Except for dill, which made me sneeze. Cedar bark, my favorite, lifted me as tall as a giant, petals of lavender tingled my toes, and sea kelp reminded me of something I could not quite remember.
All these ingredients and tools she used to make her healing powders, pastes, and poultices. Her table held a large assortment of bowls, knives, mortars, pestles, strainers, and other utensils. Often I watched her crushing leaves, mixing powders, straining plants, or applying a mixture of remedies to someone's wound or wart. Yet I knew as little about her healing work as I did about her. While she allowed me to watch, she would not converse or tell stories. She merely worked away, usually singing some chant or other.
Where had she learned so much about the art of healing? Where had she discovered the tales of so many distant lands and times? Where had she first encountered the teachings of the man from Galilee that increasingly occupied her thoughts? She would not say.
I was not alone in being vexed by her silence. Oftentimes the villagers would whisper behind her back, wondering about her healing powers, her unnatural beauty, her strange chants. I had even heard the words sorcery and black magic used once or twice, although it did not seem to discourage people from coming to her when they needed a boil healed, a cough cured, or a nightmare dispelled.
Branwen herself did not seem worried by the whisperings. As long as most people paid her for her help, so that we could continue to make our way, she did not seem to care what they might think or say. Recently she had tended to an elderly monk who had slipped on the wet stones of the mill bridge and gashed his arm. While binding his wound, Branwen uttered a Christian blessing, which seemed to please him. When she followed it with a Druid chant, however, he scolded her and warned her against blasphemy. She replied calmly that Jesus himself was so devoted to healing others that he might well have drawn upon the wisdom of the Druids, as well as others now called pagan. At that point the monk angrily shook off her bandage and left, though not before telling half the village that she was doing the work of demons.
I turned back to the pendant. It seemed to shine with its own light, not just the moon's. For the first time I noticed that the crystal in its center was not merely flat green, as it appeared from a distance. Leaning closer, I discovered violets and blues flowing like rivulets beneath its surface, while glints of red pulsed with a thousand tiny hearts. It looked almost like a living eye.
Galator. The word sprung suddenly into my mind. It is called Galator.
I shook my head, puzzled. Where did that word come from? I could not recall ever having heard it. I must have picked it up from the village square, where numerous dialects? Celt, Saxon, Roman, Gaelic, and others even more strange-collided and merged every day. Or perhaps from one of Branwen's own stories, which were sprinkled with words from the Greeks, the Jews, the Druids, and others more ancient still.
"Emrys!"
Her shrill whisper startled me so much that I jumped. I faced the bluer-than-blue eyes of the woman who shared with me her hut and her meals, but nothing more.
"You are awake."
"I am. And you were staring at me strangely."
"Not at you," I replied. "At your pendant." On an impulse, I added, "At your Galator."
She gasped. With a sweep of her hand she stuffed the pendant under her robe. Then, trying to keep her voice calm, she said, "That is not a word I remember telling you."
My eyes widened. "You mean it is the real word? The right word?"
She observed me thoughtfully, almost started to speak, then caught herself. "You should be sleeping, my son."
As always, I bristled when she called me that. "I can't sleep."
"Would a story help? I could finish the one about Apollo."
"No. Not now."
"I could make you a potion, then."
"No thanks." I shook my head. "When you did that for the thatcher's son, he slept for three and a half days."
A smile touched her lips. "He drank a week's dose at once, poor fool."
"It's almost dawn, anyway."
She gathered her rough wool blanket. "Well, if you don't want to sleep, I do."
"Before you do, can't you tell me more about that word? Gal? Oh, what was it?"
Seeming not to hear me, she wrapped herself in her customary cloak of silence, even as she wrapped herself in the wool blanket and closed her eyes once more. In seconds, she seemed to be asleep again. Yet the peace I had seen in her face before had flown.
"Can't you tell me?"
She did not stir.
"Why don't you ever help me?" I wailed. "I need your help!"
Still she did not stir.
Ruefully, I watched her for a while. Then I rolled off the pallet, stood, and splashed my face with water from the large wooden bowl by the door. Glancing again at Branwen, I felt a renewed surge of anger. Why wouldn't she answer me? Why wouldn't she help me? Yet even as I looked upon her, I felt a small prick of guilt that I had never been able to bring myself to call her Mother, although I knew how much it would please her. And yet ... what kind of mother would refuse to help her son?
I tugged against the rope handle of the door. With a scrape against the dirt, it opened, and I left the hut. (Copyright ® 1996 by Thomas A. Barron; Published by philomel Books, a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers; all rights reserved)

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Table of Contents

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Interviews & Essays

Write Well, Live Fully

An essay for aspiring writers

by T. A. Barron

The wise and wonderful writer, Madeleine L'Engle, once told me: "There are three essential rules for writing a novel." She paused, then added, "Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." That sums up the situation! But after more than twenty years of writing books, I can also add these thoughts: Writing is the most joyous — and also the most agonizing — labor that I know. And it is by far the best way to travel — in our world or any other. Every author has an individual approach to the creative process, and every author's experience is different — except for the essential elements of hard work, inspiration...and magic. Whenever people (of whatever age) ask me about the writing process, I start by telling them how much I still have to learn. This is, after all, a craft — and no matter how much someone knows, there is always more to learn and explore. That's one of my favorite qualities of the writer's craft: The horizon of excellence is ever receding. We can always improve, which means we can always grow as people. Before I give you my best advice on writing ... here is a bit of wisdom from that well-known sage, Snoopy: My own advice to new writers boils down to three words: Observe. Practice. Believe. From: The T. A. Barron Official Website www.tabarron.com Let's look at them one at a time: Observe. Notice the world around you, in deep detail. How do different people speak, with their voices, faces, hands, and posture? How do different types of trees' leaves fall to the ground, each with a singular sort of flight? How do different ideas stir your passions, fears, hopes, and dreams? And don't just notice the surface of things, the sights and sounds that first strike your senses. Go deeper. Ask yourself how something would feel; wonder what is that person's deepest, darkest secret. If you truly observe the world ... it becomes a fruitful source of writing ideas and elements. Then just add a little drop of your imagination, bend the rules of reality, and anything is possible! On top of helping your writing, observing the world closely has one more advantage. And it's a big one. This is a good way to live, to be more wholly alive. Being a writer encourages you to live more fully. Practice. Write every chance you can. Keep a journal. Write poems, whether you prefer haiku poetry, sonnets, or enormous epics. Write letters, plays, short stories, blogs, novels — whatever gets you excited. Writing is hard, full of struggle, and greatly demanding ... but it is also deeply rewarding. And practice makes you better, just as practice makes you more skillful at everything from baking a pie to piloting a spacecraft. A lot of this comes down to discipline. Sometimes the last thing I want to do on a particular day is sit at my desk at home in Colorado and write. I'd rather be playing with my kids, baking bread, or hiking on a mountain trail. But I stay with my writing because I know that's the only way it will ever happen. So … if you can find the discipline to practice, the magic of language will become more present and familiar over time. And your powers as a writer will surely grow. Believe. This is, perhaps, the most challenging part about writing. To succeed, you must truly believe in your story — in each of its characters, in its place, and in its underlying ideas. And then, even more difficult, you must believe in yourself. What can I say to encourage you? Just this: Know that you have valuable things to say, and the skills to say them. Know that your song is unique, that your voice matters. Think of writing as growing a tree. In the soil of your writer's heart, you have an idea—a seed. But it will need plenty of sunlight, air, and nourishing soil to grow. How does this happen? I can only tell you how it works for me, but for every writer the process is different. When I sit down to start a novel, a process that will take between one and three years, I begin with that seed. It helps me to sketch it out, in longhand, just to get to know it better. In time, I will write an outline of its growth, though I'm always aware that outlines are only a beginning, a rough concept. As the seed sprouts into a sapling during the first draft of the manuscript (which, old fashioned that I am, I also write longhand), the outline is abandoned. For by now the tree itself is guiding my work. I believe in it, and listen closely to its inner voice — to its soul. Several more rewrites help me shape the growing tree. I try to develop characters, places (which are much more than merely backdrops to the story, deserving all the depth and subtlety of characters), plot lines, and the story's underlying ideas. When at last I feel satisfied that it is truly formed, I show a manuscript to my editor. Her comments and questions are sometimes not what I'd hoped to hear, but they are always valuable. After all, she is my ally, my fellow gardener. From: The T. A. Barron Official Website www.tabarron.com Now come more rewrites. People often ask me how much rewriting I do. The answer is, quite simply, as much as it takes to get it right. You see, there is no substitute for the integrating and deepening that happens in a thorough rewrite. Quite often, I am also doing research at this stage, to make the story's characters and places feel true. That, indeed, is the ultimate test. Paradoxical as it may sound, good fiction is true on many levels. That's right! Fiction must feel true. On the levels of the senses, the emotions, the intellect, and the soul, a story ought to win the reader's belief. Characters, if well developed, become so real that they can walk right off the page — for both writer and reader. That is true regardless of whether the character is a man, woman, child, tree, mountain, or magical snow crystal. Sometimes I stop writing the story I am crafting and write a brief biographical sketch of one character — just to get to know that character better. How do I know when a character is fully formed? When I can, at last, hear his or her voice. No aspect of a character's description is as revealing as the voice. And then, if that voice is true, the newly-created character will lean over to me and whisper his or her deepest secret. Now, at last, the book is a thriving young tree, though it has yet to bear fruit. I still need to do more revising — but at this point the work is quite delicate, just trimming a few branches. Neuroscience is just beginning to illuminate how our brains work. But we do know this about writing: Connecting with both the left and right halves of the brain is crucial, for the creative process is both rational and metaphorical, logical and mysterious. Finally, the tree stands fully grown. It reaches high and has surprisingly deep roots. Maybe it also holds a wondrous crop of fruit. And perhaps, when the wind whistles through its branches, it brings to mind some secret, half-remembered song. Best wishes from your fellow writer, T.A. Barron

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 177 )
Rating Distribution

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(146)

4 Star

(21)

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(3)

2 Star

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(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 177 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2004

    If You Like Harry Potter, You Will Like The Lost Years of Merlin

    This book is astonishing! At first, when my mom brought it home from the library, I was sceptical. I did not think it would be any good. 'O boy,' I thought, 'another dumb fantasy book.' But one day when I was bored, I cracked it open and started reading. The beginnig confused me and I wanted to put it down. But I was really bored so I kept reading. It got so good, I didnt look up for almost 2 hours. The end mad me cry. It's not really sad, but it is meaningful. Read it!!!!!!! i would give it 10 stars if I could!

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 6, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    It's no secret that I absolutely adore T.A. Barron and his Lost

    It's no secret that I absolutely adore T.A. Barron and his Lost Years of Merlin series. It is, without a doubt, one of the most original and entertaining interpretations of the Arthurian legend that I have ever read.

    All of the characters in this story are absolutely brilliant. Emrys (or Merlin, to those who want to know - it's not much of a secret) is a bit of a downer at the beginning of the story, but let's be honest - he has every right to be. (Think Harry Potter when his emotions are being corrupted by Lord Voldemort. Slightly and annoyingly angsty, but understandably and in a way that doesn't affect your love of the story.)

    And as for the other characters! Rhia is one of my favorite female characters of all time; she's absolutely charming and amazing and funny and lovely. I want to be the female version of Cairpre. Shim needs to be my best friend. I have nightmares about Rhita Gawr.

    And as for the plot! It's so intricately created that it has no problem stretching through all five books (though this review does focus on the first book) and is simply enthralling. I love all the little things that go on as Emrys goes to becoming the Merlin we all know and love. The subplots - especially anything involving the Druma Wood - are some of my favorites.

    And the main reason to read this series is simply for the setting. Fincayara is one of the first fictional places I would ever want to visit.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2008

    A Great Start for a Series

    This book was a great read. Full of mystery and suspence young Merlin goes to discover his mysterious past. On the way he stumbles upon the Isle of Fincayra, and there the story takes off!

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2006

    Yeah, wasn't bad!

    It wasn't bad. As for this book, it was very good. However, sometimes the setting was quite unclear so I often found myself looking back through the book and asking myself, gWhere is Emrys again? h It was not as good as any Redwall book (my favorite series), but still very adventurous and had all the elements that a fantasy book should have. Good work!

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2008

    Great Read

    The Lost Years of Merlin by T. A. Barron is a wonderful adventure story about Merlin. I am a personal fan of King Arthur and all its ¿glory¿ so I had to pick this book up. T. A. Barron does a wonderful job of depicting a young Merlin who is struggling to find his identity, with strange magical powers, and of coarse the town bully. As Merlin learns to master his power, disaster strikes. T. A. Barron wrote a truly wonderful nail biter that will keep you reading for hours. That¿s incredible coming from me, because I am not the biggest fan of reading. When I first picked this book up, it was a slow reader, as are most books in the beginning. But once it started going, it didn¿t stop. Every chapter you learn something new about him, the setting, the plot, or even some one else.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2004

    An Untold Experience!

    T.A. Barron has moved me with his writing and I enjoyed the Lost Years of Merlin. A great tale of Merlin's years as a youth. A must read for Arthurian readers. T.A. Barron inspired something in my that I can not comprehend. A book for all ages!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2004

    This book is a winning 'wizard' in all Fantasy

    T.A. Barron's The Lost Years of Merlin is outstanding. Slow and sloppy at first, the story picks itself up and the story flies faster than Trouble. I recommend this to all you Faerie, Fantasy, and Arthurian Readers. I am a reader and writer of Faerie, a land of which Middle Earth is just a small portion, who barely grasps at the edges of this wonderful but perilous land.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2002

    I hate to burst everyone's bubble but...

    I think I'm the first person not to give this book five stars, but no matter. I started reading it because everyone else said it was so good, and then put it down halfway through. Here we have this kid named Emrys who shoves people into fires and then conveniently gets the second sight after going blind from it, instead of living with the consequences of what he did. Then he floats off on the ocean and conveniently lands up at Fincayra. Does anyone else spot a trend here? It was well-written, at least, but Barron should have taken the time to show that a) Fincayra really needs to be saved and that b) Emrys is a likeable character.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2002

    FINALLY!

    FINALLY! Someone gives this poor, millenia-old wizard some mortality! Everyone pictures Merlin as an old man with a pointy hat, long billowy robes, and a magic staff. True, he may grow into that, but its fascinating to watch him grow into that mysterious, mystical wizard. In "Lost Years," we find Merlin (Emrys) going through normal emotions-joy, shame, pain, and anger. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? We all need a hero, but we even more, we need a hero we can relate to! Bravo, Mr. Barron! You've brought Merlin to light!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2013

    TOALLREADERSOFTHISMESSAGE

    Start off with this book otherwise the series makes no sense.
    REALLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2013

    Sub-par at best.  The writing and dialogue were affected. No 12-

    Sub-par at best. 
    The writing and dialogue were affected. No 12-year-old, even one in a far-away-and-long-ago fantasy world talks like Emrys (and no one should either). Emrys himself is a naturally unlikeable character -- arrogant and ungrateful. As other reviewers said, the plot was lacking, and the story overall was highly derivative. T. A. Barron's Cauldron of Death seemed a virtual carbon copy of Lloyd Alexander's Black Cauldron (both can only be destroyed if someone willingly walks into it); the same could be said about Barron's deathless ghouliants and Alexander's undead Cauldron-born; and Emrys' negotiation with an old hag about the magical pendant Galator is very similar to "The Black Cauldron" protagonist's negotiation with three old hags about a magical brooch.
    f you like fantasy novels, read Lloyd Alexander's "The Black Cauldron" (or The Chronicles of Prydain) instead. It's a much better story, with more realistic (that is, believable) characters and dialogue, and a more exciting plot.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2013

    Hey

    I really want to read this book. Is it worth it?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2013

    Great, but..

    Okay let me tell you this: this was the best book I have read in 4 months. This book was good but it needed work to keep me occupied at certain moments. THE OVERALL RATING IS......9.5

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2013

    AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!! - Mark

    The best book I have ever read. Read in 2 days and couldn't put it down. The end is kind of sad, though.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2012

    Is it.

    Is it really this good?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2012

    Super Good Adventure Books

    Very good perfect book.I was reading Merlin Book 1:lost years
    And was hooked on it. Over all reviw:100%

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 30, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Great book for young readers!

    My friends and I first read this book in middle school, so between 6-8th grade, along with many other series'. I am in the process of collecting them all now that I'm 20. I have re-read them and even though I'm older now and on a higher reading level, I still enjoyed this series as much as I did in middle school. It teaches humility, friendship, determination, and many more life lessons. I love it!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2014

    Great!

    Certainly, definately, absolutely amazing!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2014

    To To: the person who typed the 32nd review

    NO YOU SUCK!!!!!! THIS BOOK IS ONE TRILLION TIMES BETTER THAN YOU WILL AND HAVE EVER BEEN! YOU ARE SUCH A DISHONOR ON YOU, DISHONOR ON YOUR COW!!!!!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2014

    MERLIN SERIES ROCKS!

    I started reading this when I was in grade 3!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 177 Customer Reviews

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