Merlin by Professor Anne Lawrence-Mathers #HistorialDesertIslandDiscs

As we head towards the last bank holiday of the summer and the start of a new academic year, the History Department at the University of Reading ‘Historical Desert Island Discs’ series comes to magical end with our Professor of all things Magical, and Astrological, Anne Mathers-Lawrence and her choices of music for Merlin… 


Merlin ended his career by being imprisoned inside a cave (or tree) forever.  That might make him a hero for the self-isolating, or even a consoling figure, since isolation caused by the coronavirus is not likely to last so long.  These suggestions start in the period during which he became famous and move on to more modern evocations of magic.  The idea with all of them is that they can evoke other worlds.

Music by a prophetess of the 12th century, contemporary with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s revelations about Merlin:

An early musical homage to Merlin –  by Purcell and Dryden, from ‘King Arthur’, this is the ‘Cold Song’ and is about the magical summoning of the Spirit of Winter:

The ‘Witch’s Aria’ by Rob Lane, from the BBC TV series Merlin, is successfully scary:


cameron photoJulia Margaret Cameron, Vivien and Merlin (1874)


This lament by Guillaume de Machaut might suit those dealing with misfortunes:

More recent evocations of magic and magicians include, this one by Buffy Sainte Marie from the 1960s.  It’s called ‘God Is Alive and Magic Is Afoot’:

To cheer things up, there is Queen’s ‘A Kind of Magic’:

And Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’:

Finally, I’d have to finish with ‘White Rabbit’ by Jefferson Airplane (I like this version particularly, but am open to suggestions):


Despite being unable to escape from imprisonment Merlin retained his visionary and prophetic powers, so would have no need of a crystal ball.  However, he would presumably miss being able to see the sky and read the stars, so this ‘book of astrology’ might cover both book and luxury item:

BL book

You can find out more about Professor Lawrence, her research and teaching here.

Professor Lawrence’s The True History of Merlin the Magician is coming out in paperback April 2020.


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