Merlin’s Kin: World Tales of the Heroic Magician, by Josepha Sherman, (August House, 1998)

Merlin’s Kin is a clever, well-researched exploration into the theme of the heroic magician that can be found in every culture around the world. Josepha Sherman, well known for her previous folklore collections, Once Upon A Galaxy, and Trickster Tales, has put together another excellent volume with this release. Her retellings of thirty different tales, collected from a wide variety of sources, are light and casual, making it easy for the casual reader to gain an overview of the material, and keeping it accessible to all. It’s the perfect introductory resource for the heroic magician theme.

The only requirements placed upon the stories were that the main character possess some form of magic, and be willing to use said powers for good, rather than evil. Thus, we’re treated to diverse heroes, ranging from Cornwall’s Lord of Pengerswick, to England’s Friar Roger Bacon, to Israel’s King Solomon. Other tales touch on the heroic magician in Native American culture, African legends, and Asian folklore.

As a pure reference book, it’s somewhat shallow, and shouldn’t be taken as the end-all be-all of any one myth. As a folklore book, it’s an excellent introduction to the topic, and a thoroughly enjoyable read. The writing style is easy and fluid, evocative of oral narratives, and is simple enough that younger readers can appreciate it. For those who find their appetites whetted, and want more, a comprehensive bibliography lists dozens of other sources, while a section in the back provides commentary on each story, and a listing of folk motifs evidenced within. Overall, this book is highly recommended, as are any books by the author.

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