November 16, 2007

The Wanderer steps forth

The other night I was reading "The History of Tom Thumb" to my children out of Joseph Jacobs's English Fairy Tales (1890), which begins:

"In the days of the great Prince Arthur, there lived a mighty magician,called Merlin, the most learned and skilful enchanter the world has ever seen.

This famous magician, who could take any form he pleased, was travelling about as a poor beggar, and being very tired, he stopped at the cottage of a ploughman to rest himself, and asked for some food."

The moment I read those words, I was thunderstruck. The realization hit me: Merlin is Odin.

I almost wanted to stop reading just to let this, and its implications sink in, but I didn't, because there are few sins greater than to interrupt a child's fairy tale.

Now, I know I could probably find this notion in any number of dusty tomes by scholars of literature, mythology or folklore. But I don't recall ever having read this. No, I don't even feel like looking it up. In that one moment, the energy of the archetype reached through several levels of being and zapped me right where I sat among my pajama-clad children.

And from that moment forward, I will always be certain: Merlin is Odin.


Henitsirk said...

Archetypes are so powerful that way, aren't they?

I've been reading The Third Eve's blog ( recently, and her essays on Jungian archetypes are fascinating.

And how about Gandalf?

Theo Huffman said...

I don't know. I think Gandalf is too human. He may share some of that Odin energy, but he's still a modern fictional character, and not something straight out of the subconscious, like a fairy tale figure.

And, notice Merlin doesn't stick around long in the fairy tale. He shows up, finds out the barren parents want a child so badly they'd even take one the size of a mouse, and ZAP! He makes it happen. Then... he's gone!

Thanks for the link to The Third Eve. I have a suspicion my feed list just got longer. :-)

To be fair, though, even modern writers have no idea where some of the stuff they write comes from. It just pops up, and they write it down.

Adrienne said...

Before I even read the blog entry I thought, "What's with the Odin image?" Ha!

Hellibrarian said...

I took a course for librarians three years ago on fairy tales and Odin, interestingly, was one character who didn't come up. In fact, few Norse references did. Possibly because there is so much in the field of fairy tales as literature even without going into the realm of mythology, which is, of course, connected.

That's an interesting point you made, how Merlin appears but doesn't stick around for long. That's true. It's as if Merlin is merely an authoritative tool required for subsequent magic to unfold, not part of the story.

vero said...

So I heard you are planning to write some more on children's tales? I'm soo looking forward to it! :))

Theo Huffman said...

Where did you hear that?

Rumor control:

If you've heard that I'm in the process of writing a serialized posting on the various ways of approaching fairy tales, including folklore, literature, psychology, and esoteric practices...'s not true! All lies! I never write things like that!

You believe me, right ;-)

vero said...

Sure I do! ;-))

KateW said...

Thanks for posting on Diamonds and Toads. I have linked to your very interesting blog.
We deal with archetypes and mythic figures in our class on writing. One thing I have noticed is that fairy tales contain much religious shorthand as well. The notion of travelers asking for and receiving hospitality would have struck a chord with early audiences not only because of its link to mythical themes and figures, but to themes they would have learned about through later religions.