270: Merlin

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
I mean, the black-and-white stuff was running backward, but it hardly mattered to the story.
Title text: I mean, the black-and-white stuff was running backward, but it hardly mattered to the story.

[edit] Explanation

Merlin is a wizard who features prominently in various retelling of the legend of King Arthur. The Once and Future King by author T. H. White is one of the most popular versions of the legend, and in it, Merlin is described as living backwards through time, as Cueball and Megan discuss in this comic (this is also briefly mentioned in the musical Camelot, which is based on this version of the story).

In the comic, Cueball is speculating philosophically on how this would have affected Merlin's life as he started life with all his memories, and gradually lost them, comparing this to Cueball's own sense of unreality at goodbyes.

Many old people do, however, end up alone without friends or family. And they may do nothing but watch TV all day. They might also lose their memory. So in this respect Merlin's last days may not be so different from many real peoples, except of course that Merlin was supposed to live in the late 5th and early 6th centuries with no access to DVD or even TV.

Memento is a movie telling the main parts of its story backwards, while a few black-and-white-scenes are straightforward. So when Merlin watches the movie, he sees nearly the whole story in its actual order, and the title text drives home the joke by noting that these few scenes, that make sense to someone with normal perceptions, would make less sense to him.

Normal old people would not be able to enjoy Memento like Merlin. Although he would of course always have remembered seeing it when he got old, until the day he saw it and then forgot it afterwards... (Plot hole of the comic?)

[edit] Transcript

[Cueball and Megan standing by a train on a platform.]
Megan: I'm bad at goodbyes. At some level I never think they're for real.
Cueball: They make me think of T. H. White's Merlin.
[They are still standing at the edge of the platform, but the train is no longer in the frame.]
Megan: Oh?
Cueball: He lived backwards, remembering the future and not the past. To him, final goodbyes meant nothing, while first hellos were tearful and bittersweet.
[Zooming out, the rail closest to the platform becomes visible.]
Megan: Huh - so over the years he'd forget all his friends.
Megan: Must've been lonely.
Cueball: Yeah. He ended up just sitting around at home watching DVDs all day. The best was the time he rented 'Memento'...
[Merlin with pointy hat and long white beard is sitting in a couch with the remote, watching TV which emits light and is clearly hooked up to a device (a DVD player).]
Merlin: Well, that was straightforward.

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


Immediately after watching Memento, I spliced it together in chronological order and watched it again. Definitely straightforward, and much more boring that way. Wotpsycho (talk) 02:48, 17 May 2013 (UTC)

If this Merlin experiences time backwards, then he should remember watching the film before doing so (as he will do it later). 12:51, 2 April 2014 (UTC)

Yes this is a plot hole. Mentioned it in the explain. Also he lived 1400 years before the invention of the DVD ;-) --Kynde (talk) 15:38, 17 June 2015 (UTC)
Personal tools


It seems you are using noscript, which is stopping our project wonderful ads from working. Explain xkcd uses ads to pay for bandwidth, and we manually approve all our advertisers, and our ads are restricted to unobtrusive images and slow animated GIFs. If you found this site helpful, please consider whitelisting us.

Want to advertise with us, or donate to us with Paypal?