Saturday, December 18, 2021

The Hollow Hills

Mary Stewart
Completed 12/18/2021, Reviewed 12/18/2021
3 stars

Another beautifully written book by Stewart, this is the second entry in the Arthurian Saga.  It basically suffers from the same problems as its predecessor, The Crystal Cave.  Lots of gorgeous, descriptive prose that gets in the way of the plot.  This book also spends even more time on the details of journeys across the country which I found to be boring filler.  In fact, I only really liked the first hundred and the last hundred pages of this nearly five-hundred-page novel.  For what it’s worth, this book won the 1974 Mythopoeic Award and it’s about as beloved as “Cave”.  

Be warned: this plot summary has spoilers for the first book…

This book picks up after the conception of Arthur, which is how “Cave” ended.  It recounts how Merlin got to this place of waiting for Arthur’s birth so that he can whisk the babe away to protect him from King Uther Pendragon’s enemies, and possibly Uther himself.  But he finds both parents in agreement with his plan and takes the infant to a kinsman of Uther’s.  There he is weaned and then sent to anther kinsman back in Britain.  After delivering the infant, Merlin leaves his sidekick Ralf to watch over Arthur’s development.  He travels to the continent to create a diversion for any spies who might be following him.  But all the while he knows what is happening to Arthur through his visions.  Finally he returns to England when the boy is thirteen and mentors him until Uther calls on him to declare him his heir.

The characterization is not as good in this book.  Merlin is basically the same in this book as he is at the end of the first.  He’s the narrator again, but not much really happens to him.  His reactions and responses throughout the book are pretty predictable.  Ralf, his sidekick is a little more interesting, being kicked out of the palace to be Merlin’s helper.  He resents his new station until he comes to believe in the big picture of Merlin’s prophesy of Arthur.  Arthur himself is only slightly better developed.  We only read about him in the last hundred pages of the book, which is partly why I liked that part.

I was bored by the whole middle three hundred pages.  It was all travelogue.  Merlin goes from place to place, but the plot really doesn’t advance.  I fell asleep often during this section.  Things don’t happen again until the Merlin goes to find Arthur after thirteen years.  Then everything picks up: the plot, the action, the suspense, the character development.  

I give this book three out of five stars.  This time, my boredom couldn’t overcome the prose.  I’m glad no other books in this series won the award, because I’m just not interested in them.

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