270: Merlin

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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.


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. Although they would not be able to enjoy Memento like Merlin.

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 the few scenes that make sense to someone with normal perceptions would make less sense to him.


[Cueball and Megan standing by a train.]
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.
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.
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 is sitting in front of a couch, watching TV]
Merlin: Well, that was straightforward.

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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)
Doesn't the "living backward" thing just mean that he remembers the future (his past) but not the past (his future)? So, for example, from his perspective, he would meet someone he didn't know, but for the other person it would be a final goodbye, and when Merlin says goodbye forever, he remembers the friend, but for the friend it's a first hello and the friend doesn't know Merlin. (Sorry if this is confusing, but the concept of living backwards is confusing.) If this is true, then Memento would be straightforward, except for the black-and-white bits. Cheese Lord Eggplant (talk) 23:42, 27 November 2015 (UTC)
Based on the second panel, Merlin remembers the future, but not the past. This would mean that he is born knowing his whole life, along with every person he will meet. Once he meets that person, he will have forgotten meeting that person. When that person says goodbye to Merlin for the last time, Merlin will have forgotten completely. It would not be a first meeting as time still progresses chronologically for Merlin. Only his memories are reversed. -- Flewk (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Remembering the future would be a weird way to live. He would be destined to perform every action as it is all planned out in his memory from birth. The other weird part would be that he would have no recollection of anything he has ever done. So the last panel is definitely a plot hole. He would know for a fact that the movie is straight forward until he watches it; at which point he will have forgotten about the movie entirely. Flewk (talk) 09:22, 26 December 2015 (UTC)

The comic does not speculate on the other effects of Merlin experiencing a time reversed existence. For example the effect as considered on a feynman diagram, where particles travelling backwards in time are antimatter, which may lead to very unfortunate results at any handshake Merlin attempts to make. 23:19, 2 August 2017 (UTC)

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