As reported earlier, I picked up this book at the market from a table labelled ‘free books’. I’ve found Mary Stewart’s books variable; some instantly forgettable, others, light thrillers like Airs Above the Ground, good enough to read again. The surprising thing about my enjoyment of The Hollow Hills (1973) is that it’s one of a series of Arthurian romances. This is a genre I don’t care for. What I like is straightforward ‘Tales of King Arthur’, such as I read as a child, or something completely wonderful like The Sword in the Stone. I still remember the thrill of reading that when young.
In The Hollow Hills, Mary Stewart has used Merlin as the narrator and covered the story of Arthur from his birth until the time his father Uther declares him his heir and High King (at fourteen!). This is Rosemary Sutcliff territory, the period when the Romans have left, the Saxons and Picts are a constant threat, and the need is to unite Britain against all foes under a king who is ‘the last of the Romans and the first of the Britons’. The depiction of the so-called Dark Ages is very convincing and I found the Wild Wood very romantic (see also Robin Hood!).
Merlin is shown as a very complex character: a bastard prince, an enchanter whose deeds are legend and who has chosen his magical powers and devotion to Arthur over normal life. Arthur himself shines out convincingly from the pages as a leader to inspire loyalty but one threatened by dark forces. I was really caught up in the story. The other books in the series are The Crystal Cave, The Last Enchantment and The Wicked Day. I’ll be looking out for them. A while ago I took advantage of one of those Book People ‘ten books for £4.99’ offers and I think it’s time I read some more Mary Stewart.