Movie 18: Sword in the Stone

posterLet me start out by saying- I know this movie has lots of die hard fans.  That is amazing but I am not in that group.  I was sincerely hoping to come away with a different impression this time out as I hadn’t seen since I was little.  Unfortunately, I still saw the same problems.  But hopefully I can explain my problems with the film in a thoughtful way that even fans can acknowledge my reaction as plausible. Either way, I have to be honest on this blog both with things I like and dislike or there is no point to doing it at all.  This is not a fact guide on Disney.  It is reviews.

A Change in Demographics-

I couldn’t find as much good behind the scenes information on this movie (kind of like Peter Pan in that regard).  They used the xerox process in 101 Dalmatians that give the film a sketchbook feel which worked in 101 but bothers me more in this type of fanciful story.   101 is almost all about animals (and black and white animals to boot) where Sword in the Stone is people so the sketchy style feels dirty and off-putting.

sir pelinore

It was a pretty cheap film to make with the new advances and it made a lot of money at the box office.  It is perhaps these results when compared with Sleeping Beauty’s disappointment that  turned Disney off of girl-centric films to marketing to boys.

This is just my observations.  I could be wrong but when we look at the Disney films from the 60-80s they are almost all led by boys, not girls.  There are a few ensemble types like The Aristocats and The Rescuers but the male characters in those movies get most of the juicy dialogue and songs.   Like I said there are a few exceptions like Clucky in Robin Hood but not many.

Perhaps this doesn’t matter but at the very least it explains why most of these pictures didn’t do much for me as a child.  They didn’t have any characters I could relate to or fantasize about their stories.

Production-

Sword in the Stone was released in 1963 and it is based on the novel of the same name by TH White and is the last feature to be released in Walt Disney’s lifetime.

Like I said above, they used the xerox method which helped everything get finished quickly but is not my favorite technique artistically.  The thick black lines of the xerox make everything look dark and a little sloppy.  See how thick the outlines of the characters are in this shot of Archimedes? That is from the xerox.

owl

As a point of contrast, here is the owl in Bambi.  You can hardly see the outlines and it looks so much more natural, layered,  and smooth.  Both owls even have the same coloring but I like the Bambi version much better.

owl2

They also had an unexpected challenge with the boy who played Arthur’s voice changing mid-process, so there are actually 3  voices to play the boy- sometimes with a single scene there are different voices and it is very distracting!  (I wish I could find a good clip for you of it. Not a ton of clips of this movie for some reason on youtube).

It is also interesting that none of the characters really have a British accent given it is about King Arthur and set in England…

Arthur is also kind of a bland hero.  He is a little like Aladdin in that way but at least Aladdin shows some spunk in the beginning, sings us a song.  He’s not totally influenced by other people. Plus, the supporting character in Aladdin is way more interesting and funnier than Merlin.

By the end I haven’t sensed anything so unique and special about Arthur to allow him to pull the sword out of the stone.  It kind of seems like he got lucky

Most of the movie is Arthur being taught things by Merlin but at the end of one lesson he says ‘that was fun’.  Not the sense of someone changing their life and preparing to be King.  Nevertheless, the movie feels it has shown enough character growth and we are on to the next lesson.  . Honestly Archimedes the owl shows more growth and personality than Arthur.

It’s strange that Merlin is treated like the old coot but he, not Arthur, is the one that defeats Madame Mim in the end.  Arthur is more of a spectator for the duel.

arcimedes

The movie received mixed reviews from critics but it has a loyal fan base that like it’s style and direction.

Sword in the Stone also features our first Disney introduction to the Sherman Brothers who would later write songs for Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks.  They are great writers but aside from a nice opening number I do not think this is their best work.  Most of the songs aren’t really songs but someone giving directions with melody coming in and out with long pauses..

But part of my dislike for this movie I admit is purely subjective.  To me it is unpleasant to look at.  Nearly every scene looks like it has been mod-podged with a blue coating.  It all looks very gray and blue and the sketchy style which worked in 101 looks dirty to me here.

Some of these were supposed to be at night or in the water which explains the blue/gray color palate but not all of them.  To me it is just unpleasant to look at and for a girl who loves Disney for it’s art that’s a big problem.

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Also a lot of the characters are drawn in a distasteful way.  I know the wolf and Madame Mim are villains but Disney has done lots of villains that looked sleek and stylish, even the hyenas in Lion King were more pleasant to look at than these two. They should have done the wolf from Peter and the wolf.  Now that was a menacing creature requiring great bravery to beat.

From Peter and the Wolf.
From Peter and the Wolf.

I don’t know I just didn’t like the designs and the characters weren’t captivating enough to make that feeling go away.  I’m not crazy about some of the drawings in the Jungle Book but the personalities are so fun and songs so good I let it pass.

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Story-

Let’s talk about the story.   It’s pretty simple.  The best part of the movie is the explanation of the legend of the sword.  It is a good song, with some color (still lots of blue) but I like it.

Arthur is an orphan, called Wart, who is trying to help his foster brother Kay with his arrows when he falls into Merlin, the wizards,  house.   Merlin senses something in the boy and asks to be his tutor and they head back to the castle.  Arthur’s foster father Sir Ector is not thrilled with the idea but agrees to let Merlin stay in the a barely standing tower of the castle.

Merlin into the tower.
Merlin into the tower.

Sir Pellinore, arrives and tells Sir Ector, Arthur and Kay there will be a tournament with the winner becoming King.  Ector decides to prepare the strong Kay and for Arthur to learn to be his squire.

Arthur is actually ok with this arrangement and says to Merlin at one point ‘what is wrong with being a squire’.  Merlin will have none of it and insists the boy get an education.  He says things like ‘a boy has got to have an education’.  Then we see them learning letters and numbers. Arthur tries to teach him about the future, where Archimedes teaches the past.

chalkboard

The problem with these scenes is they come off as very trite.  Why not instead of simply telling us that education is good show us?  Show us why the alphabet is important.  Take Arthur on a journey where he needs to read, or use science or history.  The three journeys or lessons he goes on are mostly about being brave and using your imagination.  You don’t need to be able to read and write to do that.

Obviously I think education is good but too often this movie felt like those ‘CBS Cares’ blips after a show where some star will tell you how great an education is or how bad bullying is and that’s fine for a blip but for a movie, especially an animated movie it is unsatisfying.  Don’t just tell me, show me.  For example, Pongo and Perdy didn’t just talk about being brave and learn lessons, they faced situations requiring bravery.  We didn’t need them to give us a lesson because their actions gave us a lesson.  To me the transformation parts of the lessons were contrived and not filled with any real peril or tension, so the lessons felt hallow.

Even in the final scenes of the duel and getting the sword nothing he has learned in the lessons really helps Arthur become king.  Why could he lift that sword out?  Seems like it must have been destiny.  Don’t need education to do that.

Anyway, I digress.  Merlin decides to teach Arthur three lessons.  The first lesson he gets turned into a fish.

merlin fishBut as someone new to the fish world Arthur begins to sink.  Merlin tells him he must rely on his instincts and use his imagination.  Again, doesn’t a lesson on relying on your instincts kind of negate the need for a traditional education?  Anyone can respond to instincts.

So Arthur and Merlin face a pike but the owl Archimedes saves the day.  (again how has Arthur proven he is the chosen one to be King?  Archimedes is more courageous in this scene).

The second lesson is a long section of the movie but before that Arthur must finish washing the dishes in order to go out with Merlin . Naturally that difficulty gets fixed with magic.  Arthur asks ‘won’t I get in trouble for leaving’ and Merlin says “who cares as long as the work gets done”.  I’m not sure if that is the greatest lesson to be teaching a future King.  How a task gets done, and managing how people feel about their work is often the most important part of a good leader.

Nevertheless, it is a cute song and probably my favorite part of the movie.

Another strange choice is they leave the spell running.  Why not either speed the spell up or wait a few minutes and then go.  There was not a doubt in my mind that kitchen with the spell would come back to haunt them (and they seem to be gone for hours and yet the spell has done exactly the same amount of work.  I looked at it pretty carefully and the shots look exactly the same down to the dirty skillet.

So, on to the next lesson Arthur learns a little bit about gravity and then he and Arthur are turned into squirrels so they can learn about love.  Again, not sure what this has to do with being a King but I suppose he will have a queen so it is fine.

Merlin can come across as kind of trite and preachy.  At one point while a squirrel he says ‘just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean it is wrong’.   They kind of explore that with the squirrel but with a story about King Arthur there is so much more they could have done with it, such potential.

A girl squirrel actually falls in love with Arthur and saves his life from the wolf.  Then he turns back into a human and honestly I felt bad for the squirrel.  That’s a very confusing lesson for kids.  They seem to be saying ‘love, it tears your heart out but ain’t it great anyway’. I get teaching kids that life isn’t fair and love can hurt but usually there is some resolution or happiness shown later.  This is just tragic and it adds to the grim, gray feel of the picture.

squirrel2The final transformation is into a bird so Arthur can fly because the world is round and he needs to experience it.  This lesson seems totally a vehicle for Arthur to end up in Madame Mim’s house.

mim2

Arthur tells her he is working with Merlin and that he is the greatest wizard.  Very offended she turns herself into a strange version of a ‘beautiful woman’. I’m sorry but look at her chest.  Her breasts are going in two different directions. and the waist is so tiny it looks bizarre.

pretty mim

The thing is if you really believed you were ugly and had the power to change yourself into something you think is beautiful, why wouldn’t you want to stay beautiful? Is she a villain just because she likes being ugly? It’s honestly hard to say because she introduced to the story so late we don’t really get to know why she is bad.

Arthur also tells Madame Mim, ‘Merlin’s magic is useful, for something good’.  Really? What in this movie has shown us that?  So far  he has turned people into fish, squirrels and birds to what avail?  To teach Arthur I guess but not very well.  The most substantial help he has given others is  cleaning the dishes.

So Merlin and Madame Mim duel in a fun scene with both turning into different creatures to fight. And aside from being ugly and thinking she’s a better wizard than Merlin have we really seen any proof that Madame Mim is a bad person?  Again one of those things in this movie that is explained not shown.

This clip has different music but it is the best I could find of the duel.  It is a fun scene with creative animation but I wish it gave more for Arthur to do since it is supposed to be his story.  Still, I don’t mind it.

After the duel Arthur is asked to go be a squire for Kay at the tournament.  Merlin says he is being a sell-out settling for such a lowly post but Arthur says there’s nothing wrong with it and I agree with him.  Why could he not still take lessons as a squire?  It is very strange.

So Arthur and Kay go to the tournament but he forgets Kay’s sword and tries to retrieve it but he can’t.  Seeing the sword in the stone he pulls it out.  Quickly people realize what he has done but they ask to see it done one more time.  Kay and others try to pull the sword out to no avail.  Only Arthur can, but again it feels more like he is lucky then he has earned it.

At least we finally get some light and color in this scene.

Conclusion-

I kind of gave my review as I described the picture.  This is not my favorite Disney film.  It’s not terrible and young boys might like Arthur and Merlin but it does not work for me.  The color palate is so blue and gray and unpleasant to look at.  The lead characters are bland.  The songs are so-so and the messages in the picture feel like an after school special instead of part of the story.  The lessons seem muddled and not particularly helpful in becoming a King leaving me frustrated.

Madame Mim is all right but underused.  It is played like a trifling rivalry instead of a true villain.  Think about the confrontation between Ursula and Triton.  That was a rivalry which glowed with animosity and passion.  This seems like more of a lark.

Worst of all they didn’t give me any reason to understand why Arthur pulled out the sword.  He didn’t save them from the pike.  He broke the squirrel’s heart and he didn’t defeat Madame Mim.  He’s fine with being squire so I guess that makes him humble but that’s about it.  Also the 3 voices for Arthur is very distracting.

I’m sure fans will be frustrated by my response but I’ve got to be honest with how I feel in order for this blog to have any validity.

Overall Grade= C-

Now on to Jungle Book!

26 thoughts on “Movie 18: Sword in the Stone

    1. Ha. Glad I brought that to your attention. 🙂
      It’s my roommate’s favorite too. I just don’t get how the lessons make him a better King or really teach him anything. In each one Arthur doesn’t save the day but others do and he doesn’t seem to absorb much. I mean at the end what has Arthur done to deserve pulling the sword out? If he is simply fated to be King and pull the sword out than did he need the lessons at all? He was saved by Archimedes as a fish. He broke the heart of the squirrel and didn’t fix it. He was basically a spectator wathcing Merlin take on Madame Mim? He’s fine being a squire and my thought was ‘what’s wrong with that? Be a squire and learn your ABCs’. It’s never really explained why Merlin is so against it but that education is great. Why? I know, but I don’t think the movie does enough showing why, but just tells us it is great.
      The Wizards Duel is a lot of fun. I will grant you that.
      Thanks for reading my reviews! In the end I’m not a huge fan of the overall styling of the film and that makes a big difference with animation but I can see how that could be appealing to someone with a different aesthetic, and Merlin is a fun character for sure. I kind of wish it had just been about him and Archimedes!

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      1. Agreed! Princess & The Frog was originally going to be reased on Chrjstmas Day too, but got moved a couple weeks earlier since Alvin & The Chipmunks 2 and Sherlock Holmes were also coming out around that time and Disney wanted to avoid more competition because of that. Anyway.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. All right, I’m one of those people who just watched Sword in the Stone over and over again as a kid, and to this day I can safely say I love it and think its a really good movie. The main draw for me is the comedy, the side characters such as Merlin, Archimedes and Madame Mim, the awesome wizard’s duel, and even the leisurely pace. Heck, I was introduced to the concept of gravity from this film!😛

    Also, little nitpick but Merlin, Madame Mim, Kay and Sir Ector do have British accents (though Kay’s is an over-the-top attempt at a cockney accent). Arthur is the only one who doesn’t have an accent, (but, ironically, three voice actors to boot!)

    I do somewhat see where you’re coming from when it comes to Arthur pulling the Sword from the Stone. You could well argue that he hadn’t really grown that much as a character, he just observed and experienced the strange things that happen to him, a bit like Alice in some respects. I suppose the idea is that he’s a more imaginative and less naive and submissive character and thanks to Merlin’s, but its understandable why somebody might not think that. I guess the T.H. White book ultimately did a better job at conveying that character progression, even with the benefit of more story to go on. I guess it skews best towards a younger audience, and of all the Disney films that could give a bad or mixed message, I really don’t think this is the one.

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    1. Oh I agree it doesn’t give a bad message. I would no problem with my kid watching it. I just dont particularly care for it. I did not grow up with it and I wish they had gone the more traditional King Arthur and the Knights route but I can see if you did grow up with it you’d enjoy it.

      You are right he does learn to be less submissive but that wasn’t really the point of the lessons. He is supposed to learn bravery and yet Archimedes is brave, he is supposed to learn about love and yet he seemingly is unaffected by the squirrel, and I’m not sure what the lesson as a bird is but Merlin learns that in the duel. I didnt see what was so terrible about being a steward and feel there is a lot of talking about education being important and not showing. Why not have him go on a quest where he needs to use the skills he’s learned? As it is he watches a lot of things and then accidently pulls the sword from the stone.

      Anyway I dont think it is bad or harmful in any way. I still gave it a C- and I give Ds and Fs so I saw some value but I dont care for the visual style and I think nostalgia warms people to it (which is totally valid reason for liking something).

      The music by the Sherman Brother’s is fun and the battle is neat. I’m glad when anyone likes a movie and I don’t hate Sword in the Stone but I do think it has problems and is a bit overrated.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective

      Liked by 1 person

      1. To me, the lessons in the movie start off more as casual school trips where he learns about life as a fish, a squirrel and a bird that then transform into life lessons due to intervening forces. They don’t set out to discover the meaning of love, courage and what have you, they just sort of happen.

        I guess if the movie had built up the presence of the Sword in the Stone itself, and placed more of a focus on developing Arthur’s character and less on the supporting cast it might have been more solid overall. In the book, he actually gets to test his guile and quick thinking while on a quest through Sherwood Forest with Merlin where the pair meet none other than Robin Hood and all his Merry Men. (Incidentally, would have made a humorous crossover if Disney’s Robin Hood didn’t feature an entirely anthropomorphic cast). Not to mention, the rest of the ‘Once and Future King’ book is about Arthur putting his lessons and experiences to good use, but Disney even in the 60’s was never keen on sequels leaving us with the film we have as it stands.

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      2. That sounds like a great plot from the book. I can see what you are saying but I still dont see Arthur really learning anything even the field trip variety of learning. I dont see how he is worthy to pull the sword from the stone? I didnt bond with any of the characters like Baloo in Jungle Book or love to hate the villain like Cruella. As far as just enjoying it as a comedy if we think of Aladdin, Emperor’s New Groove or even Robin Hood it doesnt hold up for me.

        It would help if I at least found it visually interesting but everything is so blue and gray it doesnt speak to me like a Fantasia or Alice in Wonderland. Alice meets creatures and there is no plot but it’s so whimsical and creative compared to this.

        But all that said I dont hate it. It ended up 40 on my list so 14 I disliked more some lots more. Only 4 Disney movies I hate and never want to watch again. They all have their appeal. It’s harmless and has some amusing moments and songs and that’s great.🙂

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  2. Thank you for your review! Love the detail you put into finding great screenshots from all these movies. Great job!

    I am one of those people who love this movie! I actually love the sketchy feel of the animation. And the bold colours, like in Alice in Wonderland and Sleeping Beauty, are just my favourite xoxo

    You mention a couple times that you’re disappointed that Arthur becomes king because he doesn’t seem to deserve it. The back story, which would have been known to audiences back then, was that the blessing on this stone was that only someone ordained by God would have been able to pull it. That’s why you see so many lights shimmering from heaven throughout the movie. Merlin knows that Arthur is the destined one (because he’s been to the future) and so he tries to teach the boy lessons about life, in part to prepare him to be king, but also to get his mind off his preoccupation with being a squire. I think this message of Arthur being the pre-ordained king is a little hidden because the back story to King Arthur isn’t taught to our kids the way it was back then, so it’s a little obscure. Back in those days, kids knew the story of King Arthur like today’s kids know the Cat in the Hat. I hope this helps you understand the movie a little better, and maybe even like it a little more too, haha🙂

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    1. Interesting theory. I never thought of it from a religious angle but you may have a point. I still don’t feel like he actually learned anything. Archimedes saves him, he breaks the squirrel’s heart and then Merlin does the duel. I’m left thinking he could have just done nothing and still gotten the sword and been king. And really the lessons had nothing to do with any kind of book instruction, so why care if he became a squire? Since he didn’t learn anything from the ‘lessons’ why not have him be a squire and do the lessons? It all just doesn’t make sense to me.
      You think the animation is bold? I thought it was gray and blue and looked dirty to me. Alice in Wonderland is bright and colorful.
      Oh well. It’s not that I think it is terrible just overrated. It’s still Disney and the Sherman Brothers songs are good.
      But your point about his calling is very interesting. Thanks for sharing and reading my review! Welcome to the blog! Look forward to hearing your thoughts on other posts.

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  3. Well, you probably know by now, but it was recently announced that Disney are at it again – The Sword in the Stone is next on their live-action adaptation hit-list!:/

    At first I, and a lot of people I know as well, was scared and upset by the possibility, my love of the original colouring my perceptions. I heard it was going to be written by one of the Game of Thrones writers – I can only hope that implies they have a quality writer who can work within the rules set by Disney, I rather doubt we should expect Arthur to be a raging barbarian like half the characters in the show.

    I remembered that there is the original T.H. White book to draw inspiration from and flesh out the parts that you felt were rather weakly written or executed. Though if they include the scene from the book where Arthur and Merlin randomly encounter Robin Hood, Marian and his Merry Men and their personalities echo the ones from the animated Robin Hood, that would be a definite plus in my book. So while I’m still mixed on the subject, what do you think of this recent development?

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    1. I actually hadnt heard of that one and I think it is kind of like Wreck-it Ralph 2 because I’m not that big of a fan of original the idea of a remake/sequel actually seems pretty cool! Especially with Sword in the Stone there is so much you could do to make it better. Have Madame Mim in earlier. Have real tests where Arthur uses the lessons and that help him actually be qualified to take the sword from the stone etc.
      I think the Wizards duel could also be cool in live action. It would come down to casting and director I think. I dont watch Game of Thrones but I’ve heard they are well written. I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of this one.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Fair enough; although I don’t think we should expect to See Madame Mim too much as she is actually an original character and not from the book. But that could offer a chance for some artistic licence, for better or worse.
        You are right about casting and director choice being essential. We can only hope that Cinderella marks the start of a positive upwards trend for live-action adaptations rather than just being a fluke.

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      2. I think that would be a huge mistake to have little of Madame Mim. She’s the villain and for this kind of story we need more of her. That’s the problem with Brave is no central villain. If they aren’t going to have her till later than they need another primary villain.

        Let’s hope it will be good! I wonder if they will use the songs? That’s really the only thing I love in the original. Most of these remakes they haven’t but evidently they will for Beauty and the Beast.

        I think remakes work best when you take something that wasn’t that great to begin with and update it. It’s much dicier waters to take a masterpiece and remake/reboot/sequel it.

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      3. I guess we’ll have to wait and see; I personally hope they take more inspiration from the book and try to weave Madame Mim in as naturally as possible, but that’s a tall order to begin with so we’ll see. I’d love to see Merlin sing ‘Higitus Figitus’ while packing up the house in live action; that sounds like fun!🙂
        With Beauty and the Beast, it’s incredibly risky because the original is probably Disney’s crowning achievement in film animation, and while they have assembled a magnificent cast and it looks like they might be tackling the remake with as much passion and care as Peter Jackson did when making ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Woolverton is being kept out of the loop though, and sad to say (considering that she wrote the original) but that might as well be a good thing.

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      4. I agree on Beauty and the Beast. I’m nervous about it but the cast is great. It’s my favorite Disney movie and their greatest achievement so they better get it right!
        Have you read the Sword in the Stone book? I’d love for them to go back to the actual King Arthur legend and weave some of that story somehow. I’m open on this one!

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      5. I did read the Sword in the Stone book a long time ago when I was little. From what I remember, it was a very detailed and immersive book and a charming read. The Disney film only borrows certain elements from it, it is essentially a family-friendly retelling of the King Arthur legend. And, get this, there are sequel books recalling Arthur’s reign as king and eventual downfall, the series as a whole is called ‘The Once and Future King’. I haven’t read the sequels, but I’ve heard positive things about them as well, especially in the way they handle Arthur’s eventual fate. So I’ll definitely find time to revisit them in the coming months.

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      6. Those sound very good. I think Sword in the Stone is from that era of Disney where they were taking elements from other films and trying to apply them to new movies which left for (at least to me) some mediocre efforts. Aristocats, Sword in the Stone, Rescuers, all derivative of better movies. They aren’t terrible but they don’t feel that original either.
        Anyway, I think those books sound good. Wish they had gone that route instead of trying to be a mid-evil times Jungle Book.

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  4. Merlin’s “Hockety pockety wockety wack” song is what comes to my mind when I think of this film. Sometimes I wish I could shrink stuff down so I could carry it with me from Point A to Point B!

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  5. just watched this last night after 10 years of not seeing it and now I agree why in the dutch they called it “merlijn de tovenaar” (Merlin the sorcerer) it has almost nothing to do with the sword or arthur in anyway, it’s more about merlin.

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