As a reader of those legends they are not new to me, but still, when you visit these places somehow new stories emerge, or maybe just different versions of the stories you have read about.
On my DK Eyewitness travel book about Brittany I had read about a “Centre de l’Imaginaire Arthurien” at Comper castle, where an Arthurian exposition was held. Of course I had to go there, and as I sat down to watch a small movie about the story of the place I learned a new version of the story of Merlin and Viviane. The one I knew was about a wise wizard so deeply in love that he naively told all the secrets of his magic to the girl he loved, Viviane, who finally, having learned all his powerful magic, bewitched him and made him prisoner inside a tree for all eternity. However, the story I heard in Brittany was, somehow, more romantic: Viviane was the fairy daughter of a nobleman called Dyonas, who owned Comper castle in the forest of Brocéliande. Merlin appeared to this beautiful girl first as a handsome young boy and then as an older, wiser man, and apparently she was attracted to both when she realized they were but one and the same man, Merlin. The two of them lived an intense passion, but he didn’t want her to leave the forest so there she stayed, and there she waited for him while he was roaming the world, namely helping King Arthur in his adventures. Whenever he came he would find her lovingly waiting for him, but of course she was not happy and became more jealous and demanding. So Merlin decided to bestow an amazing gift on her: he built her an enchanted transparent palace that he created with his powerful magic during one entire night. In the morning, when she awoke, there it was, built of the finest materials and shining in its transparent splendour. She was very happy with it but soon feared it would be coveted by humans who would want to possess it. Understanding this Merlin created a lake, facing her father’s castle, and made the crystal castle disappear under its waters, unseen to men, so that only he and Viviane might enjoy it and not be disturbed.
Still, Viviane was not happy and became more and more jealous. Finally, the story ends as the version I had heard before: she imprisons Merlin in a tree – another version says it’s in a tomb – and he stays there for all eternity. But the eternal romantics say that the bond existing between them was too strong for her to simply forget him, and so this version tells us that Vivian stayed there with Merlin, by his tomb, keeping him company for all eternity.
I must confess I much preferred this new version I heard in Brittany to the one that shows Viviane as a scheming bitch who pretends to love Merlin only to take his secrets away from him. And even if in the end she is angry with him because she has to stay put while he travels the world – still she will keep him company in the fate she has chosen for him. After all, it’s a beautiful love story, even if a troubled one.
On our way back from the forest I was thinking that this story is not exclusive to a fairy and a wizard, being quite common among mortals. How many cases do you know where one of the members of a couple completely dominates the other, stifling him or her and, mostly because of jealousy and possessiveness, will not let his or her companion live a full life – on the contrary, he or she will live in fear, because a possessive lover may (and many times does) become aggressive if the object of his or her affections does not comply with the set rules. I know many cases of men whose wives are at home – not working by choice – and who become obsessed with what their husbands do, if they are cheating on them…and then they become terribly jealous and have the most incredible attitudes…or, also, of men who are so obsessed with their wives they cannot see them talk or smile to another man, as they will immediately accuse them of being unfaithful and in many cases act violently as a consequence. Unfortunately these stories are more common than we like to think, and more and more there are stories of violence between young people who are dating…mostly due to possessiveness and jealousy.
Whether in the story of Merlin and Viviane, or in real life stories, one thing is certain: no one belongs to anybody. We belong to ourselves and we should only be with people we feel happy and comfortable with. If not, we should move on. Love relationships should make us feel good, not cause us pain. And we should learn to let go, even when we feel hurt because the person we love no longer wants us. After all, what is the point of persisting in our love for someone who doesn’t want us anymore? Not much I suppose. And while in a relationship, we should always keep in mind how absurd it is to try and keep the subject of our affection within four walls just because we feel more secure that way.
But how are we mere mortals to be so wise when even Merlin, the wizard who knew all the secrets of heaven and earth, made that terrible mistake? I know the years bring us wisdom – even if they take so many other things away! – as experience tells us not to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Still, one is never too wise where love is concerned, and perhaps the most important lesson to be taken out of this beautiful legend is that, when it comes to love, even the wisest of men may become fools and good fairies may turn mischievous.
As I looked at the pile of stones where many years ago a scholar – whose research apparently led him to that conclusion – said it was the place of Merlin’s tomb, I wondered if he is still down there, imprisoned forever, with the faithful Vivian at his side, already regretting her attitude and keeping him company for all eternity. In their case, a love that will last forever. Or until another, stronger wizard or fairy, comes and frees them both from the powerful magic that one day bound Merlin to that tomb, or tree, according to which version we choose to believe in.
In a forest so beautiful yet so mysterious as Brocéliande, it is easy to believe all these stories are true.