The Hollow Hills

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The Hollow Hills
MaryStewart TheHollowHills.jpg
First edition
Author Mary Stewart
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Arthurian Saga
Genre Fantasy
Publisher Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 446 pp
ISBN 0-340-17275-4
OCLC 15687642
Preceded by The Crystal Cave
Followed by The Last Enchantment

The Hollow Hills is a novel by Mary Stewart. It is the second in a quintet of novels covering the Arthurian Legends. This book is preceded by The Crystal Cave and succeeded by The Last Enchantment. The Hollow Hills was written in 1970 and published in 1973.

Plot introduction[edit]

The protagonist in this first-person narrative is Merlin, the legendary wizard, here depicted as an ordinary mortal but one with extreme creative intelligence and occasional clairvoyance. Merlin is overseeing the birth and raising of Arthur Pendragon, because he has foreseen that Arthur will become a great king who will unite all of Britain—which is now only loosely united as a group of smaller kingdoms with a High King (Arthur's father Uther Pendragon) in charge.

Plot summary[edit]

This novel covers the time from when King Arthur was conceived to when he was acclaimed as king.

In this version, Merlin's father is Aurelius Ambrosius, the Roman war leader, Uther Pendragon's brother, making Merlin Arthur's cousin. Merlin is depicted as 22 years old at the beginning of the book, which opens on the morning after the conception of Arthur. This conception has taken place as a result, not of illusion or shape-changing as in the legends (and as Merlin would like people to believe) but of ordinary human disguise and misdirection. Duchess Ygraine is said to have known who she was having sex with and whose son she bears from the moment Uther came to her. Merlin goes into hiding, to avoid trouble. He learns that Uther wishes the child to be hidden, until another (legitimate) son is born.

In later chapters, Merlin travels from one place to another, arranging for the upbringing of Arthur. He gives the child first to his own nurse Moravik, who after some years sends the boy to Count Ector of Galava to be trained as a man. Merlin sets off for Constantinople, accompanied by a small retinue of servants. In Constantinople, he learns from his host Adhjan that Magnus Maximus (also known as Macsen Wledig) possessed an especially beautiful and well-made sword, which was taken back to Britain after Macsen Wledig's death. Inspired by a dream which he believes to be prophetic, Merlin returns to the North in search of this sword. In Wales, Merlin finds the sword in a deserted temple of Mithras hidden beneath the altar with a spearhead and a chalice. He takes only the sword.

In order to hide from overly curious people, Merlin becomes a hermit in an obscure shrine, providing healing to the injured and advice to the insecure. He commits himself to no religion, but "allows" whatever god is willing to receive the offerings at the shrine.

Later, Merlin becomes Arthur's tutor and that of two other boys, those being Arthur's foster-brother Cei and his friend Bedwyr. Out on a ride, Arthur discovers the sword of Macsen — his ancestor and Merlin's — hidden in a cave on an island in the centre of a lake. Naming it Caliburn and laying it to rest in the altar of the Chapel Perilous, he goes on to win his first battle in a decisive victory against invading Saxons. His parentage is revealed and he is named the heir of High King Uther Pendragon; facing a challenge to his fitness as the next High King, he returns to the Chapel and draws forth Caliburn as proof before the assembled nobility.

However right at the start of his reign Arthur has already created the seed of his own destruction. Shortly before he discovers the truth about his identity, he unwittingly commits incest with his half-sister Morgause, who becomes pregnant with Mordred.


Stewart, Mary The Hollow Hills