(1916-2014) UK writer of romantic thrillers since Madam Will You Talk? (1955), but best-known for her Arthurian books. The most significant are those in the Merlin Trilogy: The Crystal Cave (1970; vt Merlin of the Crystal Cave 1991), The Hollow Hills (1973) and The Last Enchantment (1979), assembled as Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy (omni 1980 US). This was the first set of novels to explore the character of Merlin in detail and set him in context in the Arthurian world. The Crystal Cave covers Merlin's youth and shows him trying to come to terms with his power of second sight (> Talents). The novel ends with the conception of Arthur. The Hollow Hills follows the same time-frame as T H White's The Sword in the Stone (1939), but is an entirely different treatment of the subject. Merlin supervises Arthur's upbringing from afar and seeks to protect Britain by engineering Arthur's future. The Last Enchantment, the most powerful, considers Merlin's own fate. In all three MS draws from a common pool of legend but applies her own interpretation. Because the story is narrated by Merlin we learn much about his thoughts and motives, and he becomes a strong if sad character. The trilogy is one of the more convincing Arthurian works. MS returned to Arthur in The Wicked Day (1983), to telling the story of Mordred and his rebellion against Arthur; The Prince and the Pilgrim (1995), a sidebar work, takes a minor incident in Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur about King Mark's murder of his brother and makes it a Quest for justice. The hero is the little-known Alexander (or Alisander) who is imprisoned by Morgan Le Fay and must win his freedom.
In all her Arthurian novels MS has followed her own course, regardless of tradition, and developed a believable portrayal of events. The fantasy element is always slight, intended to flavour events, not dictate them.
Two of MS's romantic novels, both in the mood of Daphne Du Maurier, feature sublinear supernatural events arising from psychic abilities (> Talents). Touch Not the Cat (1976) is a modern Gothic Fantasy in which a young woman makes a telepathic link with an unknown relative. Thornyhold (1988) is about a girl who inherits her aunt's house and begins to be influenced (Possession is too strong a word) by whatever residuum of her aunt's presence still lingers.
MS has also written three novels for children. The Little Broomstick (1971), in which a child must triumph over a Witch, is the least original. Ludo and the Star Horse (1974) is an instructional tour of the Zodiac, with each of the signs portrayed in anthropomorphic form. A Walk in Wolf Wood (1980) is a Timeslip fantasy where two young children follow a strangely dressed man Into the Woods and find themselves in the 14th century trying to help a Werewolf. [MA]
Mary Florence Elinor Stewart