Warning – Major spoilers for the ending of Merlin (BBC series)
Welcome to a new section of my blog called Crazy Fan Theories. Here I will be sharing bizarre headcanons I have developed for my favourite pieces of pop culture and examining existing fan theories. I’m going to start off with one of my favourite tv shows- the BBC series Merlin– and one of the ongoing questions which fans have been asking since the show ended in 2012.
When will Arthur return?
Like all Arthurian legends, the show had a tragic ending. In the final episode, Arthur succumbed to war injuries and died in Merlin’s arms. Merlin gave him a Viking funeral to send him to the Isle of Avalon to await the predestined day that Arthur will return when Albion needs him most.
The show’s final scene is an epilogue of sorts in which we see Merlin as an old man in the modern-day walking past the Isle of Avalon, still keeping watch over it and awaiting Arthur’s return. Supposedly he has been waiting for over 1,000 years at this point, long after everyone he ever loved has died.
The more you think about it, the sadder it becomes. The entire series was focused upon Merlin restoring the ‘golden age of magic’ and ending Camelot’s persecution of magic users. Yet many fans felt cheated that they never got to see this happen. It becomes even sadder when you consider Britain’s long history of witch burnings and the fact that witchcraft didn’t become legal in the UK until 1951. Even today, neo-pagan religions such as Wicca and Druidism are incredibly obscure and are generally treated as strange and suspicious. The last time I checked, the UK isn’t full of magical creatures such as dragons and unicorns either, so all that trouble Merlin went through to save the last dragon egg was completely pointless.
So Merlin has basically failed in his lifelong quest of restoring magic, but he can still await Arthur, right? Except that Albion doesn’t need the two of them anymore. Despite what fearmongering tabloids will tell you, the UK, and the western world in general, is better and safer than it ever has been in history (so I really don’t know what I’m constantly complaining about…). Not that everything is great for everyone but people in the UK now live longer, have easy access to all necessities, and can freely practice magic (even if it isn’t the glowy eyes kind from the tv show). This article on Ranker points out that even people in the UK working minimum wage jobs still generally have more freedom and a better quality of life than Arthur had as a king in the Anglo-Saxon period. They aren’t being forced to marry their cousins at the age of 12, they aren’t at risk from dying from something as simple as an ear infection, and they don’t have to live in drafty stone castles. They also aren’t constantly at risk from invading armies or the occasional griffin attack.
But if modern-day Albion is doing so well, does that mean that Arthur will never need to come back? Will Merlin wait forever for a day that will never come? Or perhaps this golden age was possible because Arthur has already returned.
Arthur’s real return
Albion has seen a lot of war and strife in the thousand or so years since Arthur’s death, but not even those were enough to warrant Arthur’s return. The one time in this turbulent history when the people of Albion were in the most danger, when they needed Arthur more than ever, was during the blitz from 1940 to 1941. In all the wars in British history, this was the only time that civilians were in constant danger of attack. An estimated 43,000 civilians were killed during this short time and endless buildings were destroyed, taking decades to be restored.
It makes sense that this would be the time when Arthur returned from Avalon to defend the people of Albion with Merlin’s help. With 1,000 years to think it over, he would have come to terms with witchcraft and fighting alongside a wizard as well. Perhaps he took on a new persona as an army figurehead and might have even become a politician after the war. The timing of this coincides nicely with the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in 1951 and the emergence of neopagan religions in subsequent decades. Perhaps Arthur and Merlin were covertly working to gradually restore the Old Religion to Albion and accomplish what they weren’t able to in the age of Camelot. If anything they beat their predestined expectations since paganism is now more popular than ever and practised throughout the world.
When we see Merlin as an old man in the final scene, it isn’t because he is an immortal stuck in that form forever. After Arthur returned to save Albion and their destiny was fulfilled, both of them were free to live their lives however they wanted and Merlin finally started to age naturally. By 2012, Arthur had passed away from old age after a long and fulfilling life. Old Merlin is not waiting for Arthur’s return – he’s waiting the day when he can finally move on to join Arthur and all of his loved ones in Avalon. They may not have been completely successful in restoring the old ways, but they can still rest knowing that magic users are safe from persecution and Albion will be just fine without them.
What do you think of my headcanon? What’s your crazy Merlin fan theory? Tell me in the comments below!
This made me smile, having heard and read many crazy fan theories about Arthur’s return since the 60s. This is when I first became interested in the myth of Arthur and the Matter of Britain, and considered why his historic existence not only remained a potent belief but raised incredible passions with various cliques claiming their Arthur was the real one. I amassed a library of Arthurian books and made copious notes in preparing to write my own ‘definitive’ study — but I seem to have gone off the boil since!
I did use to enjoy fiction about Arthur and/or Merlin surviving into modern times, though, and even tangential treatments like H G Wells’ The Sleeper Wakes which riffed on the theme without specifically mentioning either figure. So the upshot is that I have no crazy theory of my own; but am fascinated that people are drawn to the myth of the return when they feel the portents are right, a bit like believers in bible prophecy and the supposed End of Days being just around the corner.