The legend of King Arthur and his infamous posse of knights is wildly popular, but not a lot of people know the nitty gritty details. Truth be told, some of it is pretty shocking and well … let’s just say not suitable for young children. Luckily enough, there are depictions of the legend that children can read or watch without being traumatized for life. There is the 1963 animated film The Sword in the Stone, produced by Walt Disney, which depicts Arthur as King Uther’s long-lost son after he pulls the titular sword out of the titular stone. Besides Disney’s very loose take on the story, there have been precious few sources that engage kids in the Arthurian legend without mentally scarring them. Until recently, that is.
The BBC show Merlin takes the legend of Arthur in a whole new direction and focuses on the wizard known as Arthur’s mentor and adviser once he becomes king. Hold on, here’s the kicker: Merlin and Arthur are the same age. Take a minute to let it sink in. Are you good to go? Alright.
Merlin arrives to Camelot after being ferried away by his mother, who feared for her son’s safety. At this point Merlin has no idea what he is or who he’s meant to be. He is fully aware of the fact that he has magic powers, but has kept them hidden from everyone. Once in Camelot, Merlin finds Gaius, an old friend of his mother, whom she has entrusted with her son to be his mentor (Merlin needs a guidance counselor, say what?) and settles in. Soon after, he is sent on errands around the castle grounds, where he runs into Prince Arthur, who is bullying one of his servants. Merlin steps in to stop him, but is quickly put down and thrown in the dungeons. He comes to the conclusion that Arthur is an arrogant brat and wants nothing to do with him.
Here comes the hook.
Merlin begins to hear a voice at night calling his name, but tries to ignore it. After a few nights, he caves in and goes to investigate. He finds a dragon named Kilgharrah, who is imprisoned in a cave under the castle. It is the dragon who informs Merlin that he is to guide Arthur into becoming the Once and Future King of Camelot. At first Merlin refuses, calling Arthur a variety of names (nothing bad, relax), but resolves to try after the dragon tells him that it is his destiny.
The rest of the show portrays the relationship Arthur and Merlin build; you can say they engage in a bromance. It’s actually fun to watch their chemistry develop, and it’s interesting to see the dynamic between Arthur and Merlin as friends as opposed to the usual mentor/mentee depiction. Children can learn quite a bit about the bonds of friendship just from watching the interactions between the two, especially since they both come from different backgrounds.
Now I bet you’re wondering about all the other grimy details like the affair between Lancelot and Guinevere or Mordred, who is the supposed offspring of Arthur, and his half-sister Morgana. No worries. The show finds a way to include those storylines and characters without the adultery and honestly, that is what I liked so much about the show. It manages to keep a lot of the Arthurian legend together, all while being family friendly.
The show first aired on BBC in 2008, and it recently ended (last year in December). Boo! Good news is that all five seasons are available in the U.S. as a boxed set. If you have Netflix, seasons one through four are available for streaming so you can binge-watch the show with your child (preferably children around 10 and older).