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 Megan'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 people's, except of course that Merlin was supposed to live in the late 5th and early 6th centuries with no access to DVDs 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, which make more sense to someone with normal perceptions than the rest of the movie, 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...


[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.

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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)

Yeah it's pretty weird. But also what if he had meticulously kept magical records of everything as it happened and reviewed them every now and then? Since he'd keep doing it into the future he'd always at least remember the facts if not the feelings of past moments. AzureArmageddon 08:31, 7 October 2023 (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)