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Forum Theme 1


As the Arthurian legends have continued to respond over time to fit specific cultural needs, the role of Merlin has evolved from mere sage to powerful wizard. In one of his most recent reincarnations, Merlin takes center stage as narrator and protagonist in a 1998 self-titled made-for-TV movie. While the story is a mixture of various Merlin traditions, hidden under the fantasy and special effects is a subtle cultural critique of masculinity. In this contemporary manifestation, Merlin, as both a man of action and emotion, embodies turn-of-the-century ideals for modern masculinity. Often at odds with what he considers his duty to the Arthurian realm and his personal desires, Merlin is a composite of traditional and new masculinities. This fusion is a projection of the ideological construct of the New Man and serves as a foil and critique against hegemonic masculinity that characters such as King Arthur replicate. Indicated by Merlin’s pivotal role as narrator and Arthur’s ill-fated reign, the movie favors a more contemporary blending of physical and emotional strength over stoicism and the warrior culture. Consequently, Merlin’s hybridity functions as the sole positive model of masculinity throughout the film. Additionally, reading Merlin as a new type of hero is further enhanced by the story’s reflection of the American monomyth. These elements combined reveal a time in US film culture when images of masculinity were not only becoming more complex, but were also readily accepted by the general public. Since Merlin has been a largely enigmatic figure, to fully understand how he has come to occupy these new types of masculinities and what his narrative reveals about cultural expectations for men, it is important to situate what types of positions the necromancer has traditionally held.

Publication Date

Spring 2008

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©2008 Jennie Morton



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