A Piece of Forgotten Youth

A couple of days ago I found a box of books that belonged to me and my brothers years ago.  One from that trove that caught my eye was T. A. Barron’s The Lost Years of Merlin.  That book came out in 1996 and I believe my brother bought it not long after, so I assume that it has been near to 15 years since last I read it.  I remember enjoying it, but it did not make that  big an impression on me, seeing as how I had completely forgotten about it until I found it in that box and I never tracked down any of the other books in the series.  Of course, I might not have known it was part of a series with sequels.   According to the Wikipedia, The Lost Years of Merlin is the first of 4 Merlin novels by Barron.  However, it wraps up in a way that finishes a story but leaves the future open, which I may have assumed to be the tales of Merlin with King Arthur.

I think the reason that the book jumped out at me from a pile of forgotten adolescent reading is the cover by Darrell K. Sweet.  I can’t say the cover is great, the scene it depicts only marginally reflects what occurs in the book, but Sweet has done the covers for my favorite series of fantasy novels, the late Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, and his style is distinctive.  Whatever prompted me, I decided to read this possible lost gem between volumes of Edmund Morris’ Theodore Roosevelt biographies. (Reviews forthcoming)

The book follows Merlin during his early years.  It starts with him and his mother living in a small Welsh village after a frightening sea escape.  His mother knows things about Merlin that she doesn’t tell him, and after some revelations bout Merlin’s magical nature and tragedies caused by that nature, he leaves his mother to find his birthplace.  He starts his quest and goes takes a raft out on the ocean and lands in the magical land of Fincayra.  Here his quest is disturbed by Merlin’s reluctantly joining an attempt to save the magical island from a mad ruler.  All in all, its a magical adventure that is sure to please its target audience of teenagers.

The Lost Years of Merlin is clearly a young adult book, aimed at early teenagers.  Outside of the mythological and mystical elements, the vocabulary is fairly limited and the story is told simply and straightforward.  This is in no way meant to be a bad thing.  While the storytelling is simple, the sense of magic and the fantastic imagery is truly great.  It beats that most popular of YA book, the Harry Potter series, easily.  The magical land of Fincayra is full of the weird and fantastic.  And the plot may be simple, but it moves quickly from one place to the next, keeping the rush of the fantasy high so the reader does not long dwell on the narrative shortcomings.  The titular protagonist is fairly well developed, but the secondary characters, his mother, the girl he meets and the small giant, get little more development than the various characters  and creatures that appear for their little story and then disappear.  They may have gotten more fleshed out in later books, but I’ve never read them so I can’t say.  Still, no part of this book is very bad, but I can’t recommend it to an adult unless they have nostalgia for it.  I am glad to have rediscovered it.

Futurama Episode 2

Title Screen
Episode 2:  The Series has Landed
Futurama’s second episode takes the crew to the moon on their first mission. Before that, though, we meet the rest of the main cast: Hermes, Zoidberg and Amy. Hermes is the resident pencil pusher, Zoidberg is a lobster doctor, and Amy is a rich intern. The best of these three is Zoidberg, who over the course of the show goes from being merely a bad doctor to being broke and living off garbage. Amy, too, gets plenty of screen time. Hermes always seemed the member of the main cast that the most underutilized, as though the writers could never really figure out what to do with him. He gets a few episodes where he is the focus, but none of the Hermes heavy episodes are classics. He is usually good for a line or two in crowd scenes, though. All in all, the second episode has more going on than the first, but the show has still not reached the heights it will later on.
The gang gets a box that needs to be delivered to the moon and Fry is excited until he finds out that the moon is now home to a tacky amusement park. He still longs to explore the barren moon landscape. It feels a little more serious than most other episodes, but it also has little past the initial exploring the Lunar Park. It does not connect to any of the big Futurama continuing plotlines, and there is no guest star of note which leaves us with an episode that finishes the set up from the pilot but is only memorable for its terrible amusement park. While the show is kind of forgettable, it does have some highlights. The mixed up history that is what the original moon landing has become is hilarious. From the Honeymooners as the first astronauts to the gophers and whalers on the moon all of it is down right funny. Also the names of common place things in the background contain some pretty good jokes, such as the arcade games Mortal Kooperation and Gender Neutral Pac-person and the redneck farmers hat the proclaim “the moon will rise again.”  And the topper is Bender’s little speech when ejected from the park; “I’m gonna build my own theme park, with blackjack and hookers, in fact forget the theme park.” A line he then repeats when Fry and Leela leave him out of the lunar Lander.
Episode 2 is not one of the best Futurama episodes, but it has enough highlights that even though the plot is a bit limp it is still an entertaining half hour of television. Mediocre Futurama is still better than anything else.