Merlin and the Dragons by Jane Yolen

February 5, 2020 Book Reviews 5 ★★★★½

Merlin and the Dragons by Jane YolenMerlin and the Dragons by Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Li Ming
Published by Dutton on September 1, 1995
Genres: Picture Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: purchased
Purchase: Amazon | Bookshop | Barnes & Noble | Audible
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One dark night young King Arthur goes to the old magician, Merlin, and hears the story about Merlin's childhood--a story of dragons, the cruel King Vortigern, and Uther Pendragon, the High King before Arthur. Young Arthur comes away knowing that he can rightfully place the crown on his own head. A touching story illustrated with stunning oil paintings. Full color.

I have loved the Arthurian legends since I was a child. In high school and college, that love blossomed into fan-obsession. I read everything I could get my hands on in those pre-internet years: modern retellings, Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, medieval French versions, and some of the earliest sources, such as Geoffrey of Monmouth, Nennius, and Welsh myths, as well as scholarly books about post-Roman Britain and the (possible) historicity of the legends. And of course, I love dragons, and I enjoy Jane Yolen’s childrens books. So when I saw this book in my local used bookshop, I snapped it up.

In Merlin and the Dragons, Yolen recounts much of Merlin’s origin story, as the aged wizard tells it to a sleepless young Arthur. Emrys (Merlin) grows up fatherless, shunned by the villagers. There are hints of future magic, but also of scientific knowledge. When cruel High King Vortigern attempts to build a fortress nearby, the walls collapse until Emrys tells him to dig beneath the foundations. There they find two stones from which hatch two dragons. The dragons’ fight presages Vortigern’s fate… and the rest, as they say, is history. Or rather, legend.

Ms. Yolen tells Merlin’s story in simple but evocative language which at times seems to ring like poetry. Li Ming’s gorgeous illustrations enhance the story and heighten the dramatic tension. Merlin and the Dragons is a book for all ages, and especially for lovers of the Arthurian myths.

Interior art by Li Ming, from Merlin and the Dragons by Jane Yolen
Interior art from Merlin and the Dragons (Jane Yolen.) Art by Li Ming. Photo by K. Pekar for The Bookwyrm’s Hoard (2020)

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • The Backlist Reader Challenge 2020

5 Responses to “Merlin and the Dragons by Jane Yolen”

  1. Katherine

    Oh this looks gorgeous! We are studying Ancient history and mythology right now and this looks like something that would be really fun to add in.

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      If you like cats, try the Catwings books. They are short and charming. And her picture book Owl Moon remains a favorite in our house. She also writes middle-grade, YA, and adult novels, and quite a lot of poetry.