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Magnificent writing but ultimately flawed ...

  • Jan 16, 2011
Stephen Lawhead's storytelling is certainly ambitious. In Taliesin, he has proposed nothing less than a fanciful, fluid blending of three mythologies into a single epic history - the twilight and final cataclysmic collapse of the fantastic empire of Atlantis; the inspiring life of Taliesin, Celtic bard and shaman, thought to be father to Merlin, during the withdrawal of the Roman Empire in Britain and the onset of the Dark Ages; and the endlessly repeated (and despite today's protestations to the contrary, never proven) legend of Joseph of Arimathea's carrying the Holy Grail to Britain accompanied by the dizzying, wildfire spread of Christianity throughout Europe in the centuries following Christ's crucifixion in the Holy Land!

No doubt about it ... Lawhead's prose is certainly up to the task! His evocative, mellifluous descriptions of exotic settings include sight, motion and sounds in abundance. The pages seem to exude even smells with an uncanny sense of realism:

"And the smells - a pungent perfume concocted of the thick, greasy scent of food cooking in heavy olive oil; the rich, earthy odor of the cattle stalls beneath the stadium; the light, airy tang of sun-warmed salt air off the sea."

The almost effortless creation of a seamless chronology is achieved by the telling of a series of linked shorter tales - the Atlantean princess Charis' years spent dancing in the bull ring; the inspiring transformation of the Celtic son, Elphin, from luckless bumbler to respected king and feared warlord; and, Taliesin's relentless love for Charis in the face of overwhelming opposition from her father, Avallach. Reminiscent of the bible tale of Moses in the bulrushes, Elphin's finding of the infant Taliesin caught up in the family's salmon nets and the chance discovery of his wife, Rhonwyn, is probably the warmest, most moving piece of purely romantic writing that I've ever been privileged to read!

In spite of all of these obvious strengths, ultimately the novel failed for me. While it seems eminently reasonable to portray Arthur's forebears as wrestling with their conversion from Celtic pagan beliefs to Christianity (why else would they have ultimately been so obsessed with the recovery of the Holy Grail?), I believe that Lawhead fell into the trap of presenting Christianity as not only Taliesin's choice but also his choice, the right choice and the only choice. My opinion only, of course, but I believe the novel would have been much more effective stopping at the simple portrayal of Christianity as the historical choice that Taliesin made for himself and his family! Somewhere in the final third of the novel, zealotry slipped over the top and I began to feel like Lawhead was trying to preach to me through Taliesin and, frankly, I just didn't care for it!

The writing was so darn good, I can't bring myself to give the novel a failing grade outright but I'm left with a disturbing feeling of ambivalence as to whether I'll read "Merlin", the next novel in the entire five novel series "The Pendragon Cycle". We'll see ...

Paul Weiss

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More Taliesin (The Pendragon Cycle,... reviews
review by . September 30, 2008
Book one of The Pendragon Cycle, in which the tale is told of the "twilight of Atlantis--and of the brilliant dawning of the Arthurian Era!" Lawhead sometimes writes down to the level of romantic pseudo-historical fiction, but sometimes rises to higher levels along the lines of Tolkien, threading into the "retelling" of the Arthurian legend an explicitly Christian message.    This is the first book I read following my ear surgery to restore my hearing, and while sometimes overwrought, …
Quick Tip by . January 16, 2011
An awesome, ambitious and very clever re-telling of the Arthurian legend. But for me, the heavy-handed almost sermonizing emphasis on the birth of Christianity got in the way. You may wish to judge for yourself.
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Paul Weiss ()
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   A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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While the druids of the Isle of the Mighty predict the coming of one whose song will change the world, a young priestess in Atlantis foresees the destruction of her homeland. The love story of the bard Taliesin and the Princess Charis begins a new series for Lawhead ("The Empyrion Saga" and the "Dragon King Trilogy"). This graceful combination of Atlantean legend, Celtic myth, and Christian messagereminiscent of C.S. Lewisis highly recommended. JC
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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ISBN-10: 038070613X
ISBN-13: 978-0380706136
Author: Stephen R. Lawhead
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Eos
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