Wizardly Education in the Dark Ages


One of the most memorable parts of Disney’s animated version of The Sword in the Stone is the wizards’ duel between Merlin and Madam Mim.

If you read The Once and Future King, however, you’ll find no hint of this duel in the first book, which deals with Arthur’s youth. Actually, T.H. White DID write this scene, and it still exists in stand-alone versions of Sword, but was edited out to make room for new material in the updated version for King, along with an encounter with the giant Galapas. The duel between two magicians, often one male and one female, who change from one form to another, is an ancient idea, and I’m not entirely sure how it originated. The sequence in the book is somewhat more complex than in the film, but the basic idea is the same, as is the twist ending with Merlin using his knowledge of the future to turn himself into a germ. Anyway, Merlin makes a comment before the duel that I found intriguing: “”Now we shall see how a double first at Dom Daniel avails against the private tuition of my master Bleise.” It turns out that there are traditional explanations for both Dom Daniel and Bleise.

Bleise, more often spelled Blaise, seems to have been Merlin’s tutor, in much the same way White has Merlin serve Arthur. The first writer to mention him was Robert de Boron, in his poem Merlin. According to the oldest accounts, Blaise was a priest and a scribe, and sometimes identified as one of the keepers of the Holy Grail. He’s the one who baptized Merlin, hence counteracting the influence of his demonic parentage. Blaise also wrote a chronicle about Uther and Arthur, with Merlin acting as his conduit to the two kings.

The comment in Sword suggests that Blaise is the one who taught Merlin magic, which seems rather unlikely for a priest, but I don’t recall White ever mentioning that his version of Bleise WAS a priest. Besides, it’s possible that what Blaise really taught Merlin wasn’t how to use magic, but rather how to control it and use it for good instead of evil.

For Dom Daniel, we have to look outside the Arthurian legends, and instead to the Arabian Nights. In at least one of these Arabian tales, Dom-Daniel is a huge cavern at the bottom of the sea (presumably the Mediterranean, as the story locates it near Tunis in modern-day Tunisia) where evil magicians congregate. Their leader is named Zatanai, and is either an alias of Satan (you can see for yourself how similar the names are) or a servant of his. So why would White imply Dom-Daniel is a school? Well, White did tend to alter things to make them more modern or amusing, but in this particular case there’s actually some support for it. One of Zatanai’s chief subjects, a wizard named Maugraby, is said to kidnap and brainwash children, and teach them magical arts in the caverns of Dom-Daniel. Actually, I’m kind of surprised J.K. Rowling never mentioned Dom-Daniel as a rival school to Hogwarts. The term “domdaniel” has come to mean any place, physical or metaphorical, where acts of evil take place, but it appears that the undersea cavern where the black arts are practiced was the original meaning. Perhaps Mim was a student of Maugraby’s.

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3 Responses to Wizardly Education in the Dark Ages

  1. Pingback: Wizardly Education in the Dark Ages | VoVatia | Disney Animated Films

  2. Pingback: Blow Me to Bermuda! | VoVatia

  3. Pingback: My Teacher Is a Devil | VoVatia

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