In one legend, Merlin was intended to be an Antichrist figure, begotten on a virgin by the Devil. His mother, however, had the boy baptized at birth, freeing him from the Devil's influence. His demonic heritage gave him the ability to see into the past and future, a gift that is often carried over to myths that do not include this origin story. In other myths, his father is an angel, a fae, or even no one.
He is also frequently depicted as a shapeshifter and with a trickster's personality.
In most legends, Merlin's magic helped Uther Pendragon seduce and bed another man's wife, leading to the conception of Arthur Pendragon, who he prophesized would be a great king. Merlin was given care of the boy, whom he raised and prepared for kingship. In some myths Merlin created the sword Excalibur and the Round Table.
Merlin's final fate varies from telling to telling. In some recountings, he loses his wits when Arthur is slain. In others, he is tricked and imprisoned by the witch Niviane (or Nimue), whom he loved and taught magic.
- Adaptation Displacement: Merlin is based on the now almost unknown Welsh figure Myrddin, who has his own set of legends.
- Because Destiny Says So: In this case, "destiny" goes by "Merlin."
- Bowdlerise: As Christianity gained more influence, Merlin became less of a trickster and mage and more of a wise old mentor. His demonic parentage, however, became a part of the story because of Christian influence. The point was to explain why a heroic character was able to use godless magic. His moral ambiguity was likewise explained as the goodness of his mother and evil of his father struggling in him.
- Canon Foreigner: Merlin did not appear in the original myths, although he's been around longer than Lancelot and the Holy Grail.
- Depending on the Writer: There are so many different depictions of Merlin that it's hard to reconcile them as the same person.
- Half-Human Hybrid
- Hermit Guru: Before his Bowdleriseation
- May-December Romance: With Niviane.
- Memetic Badass: Given that he appears in so many legends, Merlin definitely personifies this trope.
- Merlin and Nimue: The Trope Maker, Codifier, and Namer
- Merlin Sickness: Trope Namer, Codifier, and possibly Maker.
- The Obi-Wan
- Public Domain Artifact: He is credited as the creator of Excalibur in later myths.
- Public Domain Character
- The Professor
- Rasputinian Death: In his earliest incarnation, it was said this was the only way to kill him.
- Sealed Good in a Can: When betrayed by Niviane. Can be King in the Mountain when the myth says she sealed him in a cave.
- Seer / Oracular Urchin
- Shapeshifter Baggage
- Trickster Mentor
- Wizard Beard
- Wizard Classic: The Trope Maker and one of the most iconic examples.
- Several characters in the Marvel Universe have claimed, with varying levels of conviction, to be the Arthurian Merlin. The first was an illusion-using Silver Age villain subsequently retconned as an imposter, but the usual one is a powerful, manipulative, guardian of reality itself who sometimes uses the name "Merlyn" with a y, and probably was the Arthurian character.
- The 1980s Doctor Who Magazine comics featured Merlin as one of a group of "high evolutionaries", guardians of the universe who also included the Time Lords' founder Rassilon. The concept and characterisation were very similar to the Marvel example in this section (not to mention the use of the term "High Evolutionary", which is a Marvel character), suggesting that this was one of several subtle attempts in this era of the strip to link it to the Marvel Universe.
Films - Animation
- Disney's The Sword in the Stone
Films - Live Action
Live Action TV
- The 1998 mini-series Merlin is a retelling of the story of King Arthur with Merlin as the main character.
- Merlin is the star of the BBC series Merlin.
- In Stargate SG-1, Merlin was one of the Ancients, as was Morgan La Fey.
- The Doctor of Doctor Who is Merlin. Possibly. In the future of an Alternate Universe. It's... complicated.
- A less-than-competent Merlin appears in the French comedy series Kaamelott.
- In an episode of The Time Tunnel, he showed up in the 1960s and immobilized the Tunnel's technicians so they wouldn't be able to yank the time travelers out until after they'd helped Arthur. He didn't come through the Time Tunnel; he just appeared in the control chamber, giant-sized if I'm recalling this correctly, and it was clear he knew exactly what he was doing.
- Old Welsh tales and triads tell of a wild man of the woods living with pigs beneath apple trees, who had been a prophet and maybe a shaman. Myrrdin, or Lailoken (northern reaches, a Scottish variant), who lived in Coed Celiddon, the Caledonian Woods. After he had published his grand history, Geoffrey of Monmouth apparently found some older poetry or sources and published the Vita Merlini, Life of Merlin, and a very different Trickster from the king-maker of Uthyr and Arthur was he. Taliesin was a rough contemporary, a famous poet later given some magical or prophetic prowess as well.
- Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain (ca 1135) introduces Merlin as the child of woman but with no father, whom Vortigern wanted to sacrifice to keep a castle from crumbling above its foundations. Instead of being killed and having his blood slake the foundations, Merlin spoke prophecy and showed two dragons fighting beneath the castle, a white one (English invaders) and a red one (native Britons or Welsh). Merlin lived, Vortigern did not, and Merlin went on to aid Uthyr PenDragon in seducing Igraine the wife of Gorlois and so father Arthur in Cornwall at Castle Tintagel.
- Geoffrey of Monmouth also wrote a Life of Merlin, reflecting the old Welsh tales of Myrrdin as wild man of the woods. Having seen his sister's husband slain in battle, Myrrdin flees to the woods to live in or beneath an apple tree as a vegetarian hermit with a pig for a companion.
- Robert de Boron's book on Merlin introduced the antichrist element.
- Thomas Mallory (or Malleore) and his Le Morte Darthur is the primary source for T.H. White's Arthurian works.
- Mary Stewart's "Merlin" trilogy, based on Geoffrey of Monmouth, has Merlin telling his own story, as she fills in some gaps left by Geoffrey and by Mallory. A fourth book, "The Wicked Day" follows with Mordred's story.
- Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
- In Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon, "Merlin" is a title given the chief druid.
- Prior to this novel, her Urban Fantasy novels mention that Merlin was one of the greatest human Bards (magic users) in history.
- T.H. White's The Once and Future King and The Book of Merlyn, which introduced the concept of Merlin aging backwards from old man to child.
- Knight Life by Peter David follows T. H. White's Merlin in aging backwards to the 1980s or 1990s, finally reaching childhood. He mentions how this is contrary to Mary Stewart's portrayal of him as mostly human but with some psychic powers.
- Merlin was apparently a real historical figure in the Harry Potter universe. He gave his name to an order of powerful wizards, the Order of Merlin. His name also gets used in an Oh My Gods fashion a number of times, usually as "Merlin's beard!"
- T.A. Barron's The Lost Years of Merlin series.
- In one of the the Bailey School Kids Adventure books, the librarian is implied to be Merlin.
- In the Roger Zelazny story "The Last Defender of Camelot", Merlin is a Knight Templar Principles Zealot, and the last knight of the round table winds up having to save the world from him.
- The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell, which has Merlin as a hilariously irreverent and very powerful druid, whose performances owe a lot to charisma, reputation, and the fact that a lot of his tricks are Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane.
- Similar to the Harry Potter example, Merlin is a historical personality in The Dresden Files (as is Arthur), a founder of the White Council of wizards, and one time guardian of the holy sword Amoracchius (aka Excalibur). The head of the white council is traditionally given the title of "The Merlin". The current bearer of the title is Arthur Langtry, whom Harry note that he "resembles what you'd think Merlin would look like".
- Sir James Knowles' The Tales of King Arthur and His Knights gives an incredibly abridged version of Merlin's involvement from the beginning, but it all comes out with Merlin seeming much younger than other versions (the BBC series excluded) portray him to be (he's a child - so maybe 7 - when Vortigern uses him. Guestimate 10 years before Arthur is born...means he wouldn't be 60 when Arthur was 15 [yes, 15, not 11, Disney]).
- In Andre Norton's Merlin's Mirror, he, Arthur, and Nimue are all products of artificial insemination by Ancient Astronauts — two opposing sides of Ancient Astronauts, who seed humanity with this "improved" breed to be proxies on Earth in their millennia-long interstellar war. Nimue and Merlin have enormous Foe Yay, and if she's just being a Femme Fatale, she's very convincing about it. "Lonely Merlin, will you be ever lonely then?"
- He made his appearance as Arthur's mentor in the 1960's musical Camelot, which was made into a film in 1968. In this version his name is spelt "Merlyn".
- In Quest for Glory 2. Merlin is mentioned as a member of the Wizard's Institute of Technosorcery (WIT). A magic user can ask him to be a sponsor for your admission to the organization, though he mentions that he is way too busy for that.
- One of pre-made Wizards in Master of Magic, where he is a Sage Master (has bonus to spell research) specializing in Life and Nature magic. The intro cutscene featured him in one of winning conditions.
- Age of Wonders II has young Merlin as the campaign protagonist, Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic begins with Merlin trapped in the Shadow World contacting new Wizards as a Spirit Advisor.
- He appears in StarTropics II: Zoda's Revenge as Mike's guide and as a friend to the King of Argonians, Hirocon
- Arthur, King of Time and Space has Merlin as different things depending on what era it's set in. Most recently, it seems to have settled on him being a time traveler.
- Stupid Mario Brothers has Merlin as a mentor to Mario, but also introduces his evil brother Nox Decious. Along with his brother, this version of Merlin originally appeared in an older project by RMA Studios.
- The Fairly OddParents portrays Merlin as King Arthur's uncle and as a bit of a scammer. Also, he has a fairy's powers when it is comedically convenient.
- Dungeons & Dragons had an episode where Venger, posing as Merlin, tricked Presto into releasing monsters imprisoned by the real one, who had long passed away.
- Filmations Ghostbusters portrays Merlin as a friend of the Ghost Busters and portrays Jake Kong as able to ask for help from Merlin's clumsy assistant every full moon.
- He's the Big Good of Trollhunters who created Jim's amulet and opposes the wicked Morrigan. He is depicted as a Grumpy Old Man who is often needlessly snarky.
- Ultimate Book of Spells character Verne is a descendant of Merlin.
- In Batman the Brave And The Bold, Merlin once asked Batman and Green Arrow to follow him into his time to stop Morgana. In another episode, Merlin was said to have imprisoned a demon the then-alive Gentleman Ghost tried to release in exchange for immortality.
- In an episode of Thundercats, Mumm-Ra disguised himself as King Arthur in order to steal Excalibur and use it to defeat Lion-O. The only reason he was defeated was because he dropped the disguise and started gloating, which prompted Merlin to show up out of nowhere and kick his ass.