From Fay to Foe: Morgana Pendragon from BBC’s Merlin

What is the difference between good and evil? The answer seems almost simple. What brings happiness and prosperity, and is done not only for your own benefit, but also for the betterment of others surely has to be good. And evil is anything that causes harm and pain to anyone. But is the picture really that simply in black and white as it is made out to be?

Can the complexity with which life works really be compartmentalized into binaries that cannot be mixed?

Morgan le Fay is a famous and powerful enchantress that appears in Arthurian legends as a worthy friend-turned foe, or to be more precise, a half-sister who plots against the King for his throne. As time passed by and King Arthur and his tales became more and more iconic, what started as the character of a fairy, who is confident of her own powers and uses it for the benefit of her people transformed into a dark and ruthless sorceress who stops at nothing to get what she wants.

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BBC’s Merlin like many other representations of the legend – show her as the good-turned-bad antagonist while still staying true to the roots of the story. But it is the show’s  attempt to highlight the complexity of her personality that draws the audience’s attention to all the instances that she has ever been mentioned and puts forward the possibility that she is the most complex and therefore, the most realistic of characters in the entire narrative. 

Morgana Pendragon – as she is portrayed in the show – is a passionate soul that turned hard and bitter after all the hatred that she has seen as she faced the reality that her kind (those with magic) would never be accepted in the kingdom that she calls home.

After having to live with the fear that her magic will somehow be discovered and the traumatic terror of having to witness what would be her fate if she was, for several years, she finally seems to get tired of living in pseudo-suppression. This makes her fight back for her right to live her life as who she is with maybe a little too much of her power.

“I don’t want to be brave. I just want to be myself. I don’t want to be alone anymore.”

      — Morgana to Alvarr from BBC’s Merlin

While Morgana turns against the ruling family of Camelot and makes it her private mission to kill Arthur and ascend the throne, the loving and compassionate nature that we see in the beginning is not lost. She is admittedly more violent as she is willing to risk the lives of several innocent people, but she is still shown to be compassionate to those who do not have to be casualties of war.

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The best instance of this would be how her relationships with Merlin and Guinevere (Gwen), Arthur’s future wife, change as the story progresses. It was not until she realizes that Merlin betrayed her trust when he found out about her true intentions and that Gwen would be an obstacle in her path to the throne that Morgana forsakes her friendship with the two.

Her motherly love and compassion for Mordred is yet another quality that shines bright in the dark mark that Morgana projects on her character. Having known Mordred ever since he was a little boy, she never seems to have forgotten how, even as a child, he helped her accept herself and take pride in her powers. This innate respect that she has for Mordred is a weakness that she is not ashamed of displaying as she spares his life on numerous occasions as he acts against her under Arthur’s command.

While it is admittedly true that a good mother is not synonymous to a good person, the love and tenderness with which her interactions with Mordred, or any other living thing that requires her powers as a healer, is depicted shows a side of compassion that is conveniently hidden for the purpose of contrasting good and bad. 

One thing that can be said for certain is that Morgana is not one that can be dismissed in a small box that checks evil. Even as she risks several lives for a chance to sit on the throne of Camelot, she fights not to pacify her need for power but rather her will to live. What she does is done with the pure purpose of freedom for those with magic and to give them a better and happier life. She acts with the wish that one day magic will be accepted in Camelot and she does what is necessary to reach that goal. 

Is it really possible to bring happiness without causing even the slightest of pain to anyone? When even the most purest of actions, the pursuit of happiness and freedom, can become a dark and twisted tale, there seems no way with which one can truly determine what is good and what is evil.

After all, aren’t good and evil just two sides of the same coin which when flipped just happens to end on one side that decides the fate of the action? 

About the Author

Uma-PhotoUma Anilkumar is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in English Studies. She is often captivated by new, interesting ideas, especially that of pop culture and is always in search of learning something new. A lover of all kinds of art, she is a writer and poet during her free time and dreams of publishing her own work in the future.

Author: Mith Books

Mith Books | The Merchant of Stories | Publisher of Timeless Tales from Around the World

One thought

  1. Wonderfully written!

    I think happiness is just an illusion. Bringing happiness to everybody at the same time, is almost impossible. There is always something that hurts somebody else, even if unintentional. Yes, indeed- sometimes good and evil feel like the two sides of the same coin.

    A beautifully written review. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I might even open my Netflix after ages, just to watch this show. Thank you for writing this <3

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