rather than surrender to the Nazis — asnhis chauffeur packed his paintings andndrove him to the safety of Tashkent.nThe rest of the Tolstoys had longnsince been killed, imprisoned, or exiled.nNikolai’s father had escaped as anboy, after having been chased by thenCheka from Kazan to Moscow, wherenhis English nurse, with the help of annEnglish Anglican priest, smuggled himnout as a British citizen.n”Even now, my father doesn’t speaknabout it. I think it had some traumaticneffect upon him. And so I can remembernwhen I first heard about the Revolution,nwhich was when a boy at mynschool told me about Red and WhitenRussians. But I don’t think that hadnvery much effect on me straight away. Inwas always very touched and attractednto the old Russia, from seeing it aroundnme in,the homes of relatives we visited.nBut the political context of it I more ornless learned as a later thing. In a funnynway, it seems to have made me feelnmore intensively about these things.nIt’s a whole society and civilizationnthat’s really vanished now, and the verynfew survivors will soon be dead, and sonI felt very great interest. But I think myncircumstances have been lucky for me,nthat I’m able to look at Russia, andnadmire, and be enthralled by things,nbut to do it at a distance.”nIt was because of his interest innRussia (and the number of mouths henhas to feed in his own family) thatnNikolai wrote several books on Sovietnsociety early in his career. But whennhis editor gave him an opportunity tonwrite for pleasure, he wrote a scholarlyninvestigation called The Quest fornMerlin, in which he traces everynknown historical reference to Merlin.nThe scholarship gets extremely complicated,nthe simplified version beingnthat Merlin was a Welsh bard who livednin the 6th century. The early Welshnbelieved that he prophesied the fortunesnand the kings of Britain andninfluenced the land’s destiny much thenway Prospero oversees his island in ThenTempest. Merlin’s king was not callednArthur, but Gwenddolau, and when hendied in battle in 573, Merlin becamenmad with grief and fled to the Forest ofnCaledonia north of Hadrian’s wall.nEven after Tolstoy had finished hisnscholarly book, he was still fascinatednby Merlin. “I’d gone as far as I couldngo pursuing these sources, and threenpeople will read it, and I don’t knownthat it gets you anywhere. So suddenlynI said, ‘Why not instead of that, sitndown and write what I actually thinkntook place?’ Although I’d come tonthink of an historical novel as a sort ofnwatered-down version of the realnthing.”nAnd yet now, having written ThenComing of the King (which will benpublished this month in America bynBantam) as the first in a trilogy ofnMerlin novels, and having found thenprocess fascinating, Tolstoy doesn’tnplan to write nonfiction in the future.n”I entered on this rather desperatenventure quite recently. The poor Tolstoynhousehold was financially in verynbad straits indeed, but I thought if Indon’t write it now I never will, and I satndown and wrote what claimed to benthe autobiography of Merlin. Therenwas no more money coming in at thisnstage, and there had been a certainninterview with the bank managernwhich had been very polite and friendly,nbut had, for me, grim undertones.nBut then the American publishers offerednan unbelievable sum, for us,nwhich in the end, I think, with hardnwork, will get us out of it all.n”The whole basis is the historicalnMerlin in the context of the 6th century,nand it’s actually a very fascinatingnperiod with many lessons for our ownntime — not the least of which is thatnmany people who lament the age innwhich we live might do worse than tonlook back to the 6th century, andnindeed might find an age not veryndissimilar to our own. Those who gon’round with long faces explaining thatnthey’re living under the shadow of thenbomb, for instance, might like to seenwhat it was like to live under thenshadow of the bubonic plague. As farnas I can see, it was very much worse. Itnwas a time when a whole civilizednsociety seemed to be breaking up andnwhere there were just small heroicngroups of people attempting to preservensomething of civilization. I hopenin the form of a novel that thesenmessages can be brought to a muchnwider and a different audience thannthat which I would gain by continuingnto bore my fellow Celtic scholars at thenUniversities of Cardiff and Edinburgh.n”Of course the 6th century was antime when Christianity was becomingnestablished in Britain, but paganism, asnnnI believe, was still flourishing. So angreat deal of the book is about thenRoman Empire, and I hope that peoplenwill realize what we can gain out ofnan understanding of the only civilizationnwith close similarities to our own,nthat rose and fell and disappeared,nwhich we can stand back and study. Yetnthis is being cut off by our modernneducation, and in fact the whole pastnreally will be a closed book one day.nWe’ll be like people who suddenlynhave amnesia, who have to start theirnlives from scratch. There’s a feelingntoday that we’ve nothing to learn fromnthe past. John Dewey actually said,n’No one should read any book writtennbefore 1900.’ Yet there’s also an unconsciousnfear and hatred of the past,nespecially in the field of education,nbecause it does show up the littlenessnand the frivolity of what intellectualsnare doing. The chattering that goes onnin New York and London over candlesnat dinner—set it in the larger perspective,nand you see it straight away fornwhat it is.”nTolstoy is now working on the secondnvolume of his Merlin trilogy, butnnot without the distraction of preparingnfor a libel suit. For in early 1987, basednon his 1986 book. The Minister andnthe Massacres, Tolstoy wrote a circularnthat was widely distributed by NigelnWatts. This pamphlet outlined the actionsninitiated by Harold Macmillannand carried out by Lord Aldingtonn(formerly Brigadier Toby Low) in Austrianin 1945, which doomed tens ofnthousands of non-Soviet citizens —nCossacks, White Russians, Slovenes,nCroats, and Serbs, including womennand children — who “either died a lingering,ndeath in Soviet forced labourncamps, or were slaughtered in circumstancesnof appalling brutality by Titoistnexecution squads.”nNo action of any kind had beennundertaken against Tolstoy by Macmillan’snfamily or Lord Aldington in connectionnwith Tolstoy’s book, but Aldingtonnbrought a libel suit against Mr.nWatts for distributing the circular. AndnTolstoy then felt honor bound to includenhimself as a defendant.nThe trial begins June 6 and hasnalready attracted considerable attentionnin the British press. Last fall an “independentncommission” investigated thenAustrian atrocities and publishednfindings that largely exonerate Mac-nAPRIL 1989/55n