Josepha Sherman
Merlin's Kin: World Tales of the Heroic Magician
August House, 1998
192 pages, hardcover, $21.95
ISBN 0-87483-523-2
Reviewed by Gary McGath
Copyright 2008 by Gary McGath

Josepha Sherman puts her broad knowledge of folklore into Merlin's Kin, a set of stories about the "good magician" from many different cultures around the world. Every habitable continent is represented. Some of the stories are ones that grew up around real people, such as Virgil, King Solomon, and Roger Bacon. Most are about magicians whose real-life inspirations, if any, are lost to history.

No matter where the stories are from, certain themes keep occurring. There are quests, courtships, battles with monsters, tricking of demons, and challenges to those in power. Sometimes the resemblances are startling. The Manchu story of Teteke presents a journey to the Underworld, a ferryman, and a plea to return a dead person to the world of the living. The Polynesian tale of Kukali features a giant, man-eating bird, reminiscent of the Roc of the Arabian Nights. Other stories have strange-sounding elements, such as Hungarian multi-headed dragons who ride horses and have human wives.

Most of the stories reflect the special concerns of their cultures. An Inuit story deals with the threat of starvation; an Australian story features a magic boomerang.

These stories should be satisfying in themselves to younger readers, perhaps age 12 to 14. For those who want to know a bit more about their place in folklore, Sherman has provided background notes at the end of the book. Personally, I'd have liked still more context. The stories are often smoothly patched together from multiple variants, and I'm pretty sure the sex and violence are toned down from the originals.

Still, Merlin's Kin is an entertaining book, and could provide a nice introduction to world folklore for a young reader.

This review last revised on April 6, 2008

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