70 pages 2 hours read

John Steinbeck

The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1976

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Chapters 4-5Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapter 4 Summary: “The Death of Merlin”

After Sir Pellinore rescues Nyneve and brings her to Arthur’s court, Merlin falls hopelessly in love with the damsel: “And Nyneve used her power over the besotted old Merlin and traded her company for his magic arts, for she was one of the damsels of the Lady of the Lake and schooled in wonders” (99). Merlin had prophesied years earlier that the damsel would be his undoing and even confides this news to Arthur. The king is mystified and asks the old wizard why he cannot prevent the doom he has foreseen: Merlin replies, “Because I am wise. In the combat between wisdom and feeling, wisdom never wins” (99).

When Nyneve decides to leave court, Merlin follows wherever she goes. Over time, Nyneve wheedles all the secrets of Merlin’s magic from him, including how to create spells that cannot be broken. Nyneve intimates that she will take the old man as her lover, and he conjures a magical chamber under a great rock cliff in Cornwall for their dalliance. When Merlin steps into the chamber, Nyneve casts an unbreakable spell to seal him inside, and there he remains to this day.

Back in Camelot, Arthur receives the news of five foreign kings who have banded together to raid his country.