I’m often asked why I chose to write about the early years of the great wizard, Merlin.
What really made me fall in love with stories of young Merlin was the realization that Merlin, the original wizard and the greatest mage of all times, didn’t just spring into life as the ancient, wise, eccentric, powerful fellow we all know — the wizard in The Sword in the Stone or the many tales of Camelot. No way. So where did he come from? I started asking, What happened in his childhood? How did he come to be this great exalted wizard who is so beloved around the world? And also… what strange and terrible and mysterious things happened to him in his youth that made him want to keep those years a deep secret for centuries — his Lost Years?
Around that time, I woke up in the middle of the night from a vivid dream — a dream of a boy, half-drowned and only barely alive, who washed ashore on a strange land. He had no memory, no identity, no idea who he was. But he did have something special, maybe even magical, down inside. He felt drawn to the wonders and powers of nature. He had a great love for humanity, even with all our flaws. And he had that magic, which was destined to grow into something truly majestic. That was when I knew who he was — Merlin.
The story of Merlin’s youth is, at its heart, a metaphor for the heroic potential in every child. I sincerely believe that all kids have that wonderful capacity. But they need to hear heroic, inspiring stories to realize that. And every hero —whether fictional or real — must face some sort of obstacles, some sort of difficulties, in order to reach down inside to find the courage they need to triumph. This is as important in stories as it is in real life.
I believe that every person has some magic down inside. That’s true regardless of age, gender, background, or description. Everyone has the potential to find that special magic… and use it to help themselves and the world.
That’s why there are heroes are in all my books — and always will be. Why? Because heroes are important – today more than ever. Heroes (whether real or fictional) remind us who we really are, what we can become, and just how far we can go. Best of all, they remind us of our own heroic potential. For anyone, no matter how young or small or unlikely, can find heroic qualities down inside. Just like that half-drowned boy I once wrote about: He washed ashore on a strange, hostile coastline … and ultimately became Merlin, the greatest wizard of all times.
I’d also like to say a few words about what a hero does not mean: a celebrity. In our society, we often confuse the two, but they couldn’t be more different. A hero is someone who, faced with a tough challenge, reaches down inside—and finds the courage, perseverance, or wisdom to triumph. That someone could be utterly unknown to most of the world. It could be a girl or a boy; a Tibetan refugee you’ve never met or the person next door; a member of any race, culture, or economic group. But in every case, it’s someone with impressive qualities of character.
By contrast, a celebrity is just someone who has won our attention—whether for fifteen seconds or fifteen years. You can see the difference, can’t you? For a celebrity, what counts is fame—period. For a hero, though, what counts is character.
More than anything, heroes are important because they show that every person — young or old, black or white, rich or poor — can make a positive difference to the world. Each of us can be more than just what Madison Avenue calls consumers: We can be creators! Of our own lives, our own destinies.
Just like the young Merlin, all of us are washed ashore, half-drowned, at some point in our lives. All of us have hidden struggles… and hidden potential. And all of us, like the greatest wizard of all, have great magic within us: the ability to reach for the stars.