Merlin has been around an awfully long time. Harry hasn’t. Merlin has taken many forms and has figured in many films and books throughout the years and centuries. Harry hasn’t.
But the Merlin most people probably think about today is the one in the form of Colin Morgan in the BBC series Merlin that ran from 2008 t0 2012. In other words the series overlapped a bit with the Harry Potter films. But not for me. Before this session I had read all the HP books and seen all of the films at least three times and didn’t have a clue about Merlin. I only discovered it a year ago and since then have become a Merlin fanatic as well. I’ve seen the whole series three times in one year. Naturally, this time while watching the HP movies, it was impossible not to make comparisons between the two.
A good friend of mine asked me awhile ago which one I like best. She’s a HP fanatic but for reasons I can’t fathom doesn’t like Merlin and hasn’t even watched more than a few episodes. I don’t think she’s given Merlin an honest chance. My answer was, in any case, I don’t have to choose. I can, and do, love them both.
But a comparison is not without interest.
As I just mentioned, Merlin has been around forever but usually he’s an old man. In the BBC series he’s a boy at the start and grows into a man in the nine or so years the story covers. He starts out at about the age Harry ends up but they both go through a major maturing process. Merlin too is the chosen one, alone, lonely, with powers he doesn’t understand and can’t always control. Merlin has Gaius, Harry has Dumbledore. Merlin has Morgana, Harry has Voldemort.
Merlin’s best friends are Muggles. Most of them know nothing of his magical powers and would be obliged by law to have him arrested if they found out. Harry’s best friends are as magical as he is.
Colin Morgan has jokingly said in interviews that he’s more powerful than Harry because he doesn’t need a wand. Harry, on the other hand, can fly on a broom but Merlin can’t, or at least doesn’t. Why not?
Merlin’s spirit hovers over the world of Harry Potter in such forms as the Order of Merlin, which is a very high honour to receive, and in the frequently used oath, “Merlin’s beard!” If they had wanted to give tribute to the BBC series they could have initiated the oath, “Merlin’s dimple!”
In Merlin’s world, magic is forbidden on pain of death and Merlin himself risks his life every day using his magic to protect Arthur. Magic however is generally known and accepted and widely practiced by good as well as bad sorcerers. In Harry’s world, that is to say the Muggle world, magic isn’t generally believed in. Among the Muggles who actually know about it, magic is either something to hate and fear and be ashamed of as in the case of the Dursleys, or something to be proud of as are the Muggle parents of children with magical powers, such as the Grangers. Magicians themselves in HP are careful to keep it all a secret as much as possible whereas Merlin and his fellow sorcerers long for the day when they can use their powers openly.
There is humour in both. In fact they are both hilarious. And silly at times. But they are also dark, and become increasingly so. In Harry Potter the parallels to Nazism are very clear in the Death Eaters’ hatred and persecution of Muggles but there are traces of the same parallels in Uther’s hatred and persecution of sorcerers.
This darkness leads in both to the climax of ultimate battle. There are tragic losses in both but while Harry Potter ends on a positive note Merlin ends in tragedy. Harry wins the battle and a peaceful life with his closest friends. Merlin wins the battle but loses his closest friend and any meaning in his life. For many the ending of Merlin was an unexpected tragedy and there has since been a social media movement to continue the series and change the ending. (I think the ending is perfect.) As far as I know there is no such movement for Harry Potter though the fascination lives on for what’s already there.
On a different level of comparison, though both casts are outstanding there has been surprisingly little connection between them. The most notable exception is John Hurt who plays Mr. Ollivander in HP and provides Kilgharrah the Great Dragon, a major character in the Merlin series, with his distinctive voice. Harry Melling plays the dreadful Dudley in HP and the much more likeable Gilli in Merlin. There may be others but not many. We’d probably all love to see Harry Potter and Merlin meet in the form of Daniel Radcliffe and Colin Morgan in their own movie or series but I’ve not heard of any such plans. Colin Morgan has recently appeared on stage with Rupert Glint in Mojo at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London but I haven’t heard of any other meetings of the two casts.
Ah well, the comparisons could go on. But if I am to be completely honest, there is now an answer to my friend’s question. After watching the films this time, and now after having read four of the books in the last week and started the fifth, I know now that...I love Harry dearly and will see the films and read the books again in a few years. But Merlin haunts me. Merlin has absorbed my very soul. I actually ache to start seeing the whole series for the fourth time. Harry or Merlin? If I had to choose, I would have to choose, with some reluctance but still...Merlin.
But I still don’t have to choose. I still love them both.