The Merlin Mystery

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The Merlin Mystery is a 1998 puzzle/children's book, written by Jonathan Gunson and illustrated by Gunson and Marten Coombe. Published by Warner Books and certified by Mensa, it served as an armchair treasure hunt book, challenging its readers to solve the titular mystery by deciphering the pictures to learn how to cast a magic spell, the details of which were to be written out and sent to an official addess. None of the 30,000 entries received contained the correct solution, so the £75,000 prize was donated to the World Wildlife Fund.[1]


The book starts with an unnamed black cat investigating the run-down former living quarters of the wizard Merlin of Arthurian legend with the implied intent of trying to find something worth stealing. While there she meets a northern spotted owl who takes her through the house and explains Merlin's life, magical abilities, and what the book describes as 'The Pendragon Alchemy', a philosophy of life that says that giving nets greater rewards, both monetary and emotional, than taking. The book deviates from previous Arthur legends and tells of Merlin protecting an unnamed princess from a cadre of evil sorcerers (and in the process creating a ring of stones in Avebury), and falling in love with Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, here described as being a water sprite princess.

During this it is revealed simultaneously that the black cat is Nimue and the owl is Merlin, who resume their love. Nimue retrieves the Merlin's Wand in order to give it to the aforementioned evil sorcerers to free them in the misguided belief that they will begrudgingly help save the magical world. However, in trying to defend Merlin she accidentally uses the wand on him, shattering his soul and destroying both his body and his wand in a large fiery flash. Merlin's last magical act is to rescind Nimue's human form, and she becomes the water of the lake near the cave where Merlin was destroyed. However, Merlin has become the mountain and cave next to the lake, and the two remain, insubstantial but together, until, as Merlin explains, 'The seeker' (here to mean the reader) casts 'the spell' (the solution to the puzzle) and causes the wand (the reward for solving the puzzle) to appear.


The puzzle of the book took much after its predecessor Masquerade in that the plot bears no relevance to the solution, and that the answer is found in the intricate illustrations as well as the borders of every page. The borders are littered with a variety of possible objects to include in the final spell, including Alchemy symbols as well as the element symbols Au, Pb, and Ag, Clocks featuring various times, Latin names for various plants, and symbols for directions and movements. Also on these pages are a variety of images of landmarks from around England, France, and Prague, as well as such symbols of English culture as Beefeaters and Toby Jugs.

The book was intended to be considered as a three-dimensional space, through which the reader was supposed to draw six three-dimensional objects, the lines of which would intersect with the various objects found on the pages edges, which, listed in order, would outline a complex ritual—the spell which needed to be performed to summon Merlin's staff.


A soundtrack CD was especially produced by British composer and producer Julia Taylor-Stanley, who composed, performed and produced all the titles, with vocals by Miriam Stockley, Shelagh and Sheryle Gwynfar, and Joss Ackland. It was published by EarthTone Records under the group name Alkaemy, and released on September 15, 1998. The CD was meant to be a companion to the worldwide release of the book.[2]


Along with a prize of either £75,000 or $125,000 (which were then equal under the exchange rate), the winner would have been awarded a thirty-six inch long wand, the head of which was made from ancient gold threaded Brazilian crystal set into silver with a gilded staff representing a branch from the tree of life. The head of the wand also has a ring of alchemic symbols around it. Along with the wand, the winner would also have received:

  • A bracelet containing twelve golden alchemic symbols
  • A larger golden symbol, Sulphur Sublimate, attached to a shard of lapis lazuli
  • A small vial of pure 24-carat gold pellets which the book claims comes from the River Nile
  • Three charms chained together, of the Sun, the Moon, and Saturn, also representing three sorcerers from the story.
  • A solid oak chest to contain all the prizes, possessing three locks and three different keys. The lid of the box bears the words "Merlinius Est Mihi Dominus"

Select bibliography[edit]

  • Jonathan Gunson & Marten Coombe, The Merlin Mystery, Warner Books, 1998 ( ISBN 0-446-52432-8 ) ( LC 98-84996 )


External links[edit]