Arcane Asylum

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Title: Arcane Asylum
Author(s): new_kate
Date(s): 15 May 2009 - 24 September 2010
Length: 124,790 words / 12:42:34 hours
Genre: slash fanfiction, Prison AU
Fandom: Merlin
External Links: Arcane Asylum (AO3)
Arcane Asylum (LiveJournal)
Arcane Asylum (Chinese translation)
Arcane Asylum (podficbigbang)
podfic cover

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Arcane Asylum is a Merlin/Arthur AU by new_kate (124,790 words). The author describes it as "This isn't really a prison story so much as it's the story of the world that has a prison for magic users in it."[1]

Summary: Modern AU. For the last twenty two years Uther Pendragon has been waging war on magic. Now his son Arthur has been framed for a magical crime and sent to the prison for magic users. Arthur is instantly targeted by the inmates, but mysterious top dog Merlin takes him under his wing. They form a bond, and Merlin decides to help Arthur clear his name.[2]

sophinisba podficced the story for The Podfic Big Bang 2012.[3]

Another reviewer's summary: "It is a modern AU, which in Merlin fandom usually means that Uther is King and Arthur the Prince of Wales (or occasionally some corporate equivalent), and Merlin is someone who wanders along. The thing nearly always left out of modern AUs is either magic altogether, or the idea that mundanes know about magic, and prohibit it.

This story takes a totally different approach and centres the canon allegory of magic users as a persecuted and oppressed class and puts that in a modern context. While canon uses this fact as nothing much more than a convenient source of conflict, this story is about how a construct of inequality molds a society and how hard that is to overturn. There is a whole history here, touched on in the story, but never with any infodumpy badness, of how magic users gradually became this hated and feared and imprisoned minority."[4]


The story started out on kinkme_merlin for the prompt:

"Arthur/Merlin, modern prison AU. Uther is the notorious warden of a prison for magic users. When Nimeuh frames Arthur for a magical crime, he's sent down for it. Being pretty, blonde and the hated warden's son makes him a prime target and everyone wants to make him their prison bitch. Luckily he catches the eye of mysterious topdog!Merlin who takes him under his wing... Bonus points for everyone being terrified of Merlin and Arthur being all indignant about needing "protection"."[5]

The first part was posted anonymously May 15, 2009,[6] and the story was completed two days later. With a length of only ~5,800 words, this version was much shorter than what later became a magical modern version of the canon characters and their epic story. Almost a year later, new_kate de-anoned and announced, "Okay, on the off-chance someone is tracking :D This story is now 90K+ and it would be torture to commentpost - I'm deanoning and taking it to my journal. It's still a WiP, sorry! But I'm so going to finish!"[7] The last part was posted September 24, 2010.

Recs and Reviews

"Arcane Asylum is a truly brilliant Merlin modern-day AU. It starts out like a traditional prison AU (there's a prison for warlocks; Arthur is framed; he's immediately attacked and Merlin becomes his protector) but then it turns out to be so very much more."[8]
"I can only rarely get into Modern AUs in Merlin, but this one has great worldbuilding. It still has magic and prophecy and all the fun stuff, and both characters and certain plot elements form the series were transplanted well into the present day, without it seeming forced or too contrived."[9]
"This is Magical Modern AU with some pretty hefty warnings: non-con, dub-con, violence, deaths of minor characters. It's set in a prison and goes to some pretty dark places but I was never overwhelmed by the desolation of it all. Arthur is 'stuck' in a prison his father created, filled with magic users that his father put in there. They would all love a piece of Arthur's pretty arse but Merlin stands in their way. And oh… Merlin's such a BAMF. Still very much IC, but he's come into his power and everyone knows it. The real question is what should he do with it? What is for? All the moral questions that fit with the Merlin we know and love. This plot has many delicious villains and so many shades of grey for each of them. It's a wonderful journey for both Arthur and Merlin to find hope and life in the small world of the prison and in the society outside the prison walls that is full of fear and hate. A wonderfully done complex plot that the author manages to see through to a believable end."[10]
[...]one of the primary themes of the work is figuring out how to forgive unforgivable sins.

The depiction of Arthur as a privileged man, the son of the man who is the champion of persecuting the magic users, is particularly good because we see from the get go his privilege, his casual ignorance of the realities of his society for its underclass and his blundering determination to be the hero. This last bit is particularly well done. We see Arthur white knighting all over the place, and we get to watch him learn when that's wrong but still keep trying to help. [...]

However, what this story and the X Men franchise and almost every Vampire story ever told is doing is this problematic thing of telling stories of oppression and revolution and liberation without having to tell the stories of chromatic people or queer people or lower class people. In a lot of cases, the metaphors of Vampires or mutants or magicians more closely map onto LGBT people, and in this story we have discussion of and depiction of passing. We see the horrible toll trying to deny your nature has on people who have no power to choose differently. We see people accepting imprisonment as a viable alternative to living the lie. We even see a very little bit of overcoming homophobia, but we get this allegorical representation without any queer community, Black community, South Asian community or any of the other real oppressed groups in the UK today. [...]

This fic is very well told in its examination of themes of inequality and abuse of power. No one is a simple hero or villain, and no one saves the day by themselves. But it is representative of a genre that I think we need to question the appeal of. [...]

I'm not blaming this story or this author for the flaws in the genre or canon the story draws on. I do think that in sticking 100% to canon characters to populate the modern world with, the author has missed an opportunity to show this fictional struggle for freedom and equality alongside those other real struggles a more representative picture of the modern UK would allow. [...][11]


  1. ^ new_kate. Arcane Asylum Master Post, 09 August 2010. (Accessed 14 December 2010)
  2. ^ Summary taken from AO3 version of the story. (Accessed 14 December 2010)
  3. ^ "Merlin: Arcane Asylum". Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  4. ^ Read the entire review at Arcane Asylum dated April 29, 2011; reference link.
  5. ^ Anonymous. Modern prison AU prompt, 09 May 2009. (Accessed 14 December 2010)
  6. ^ Anonymous. Arcane Asylum, part 1/idek, 15 May 2009. (Accessed 14 December 2010)
  7. ^ new_kate. Arcane Asylum some moar, 09 August 2010. (Accessed 14 December 2010)
  8. ^ giandujakiss. Blah blah another fic rec, 28 September 2010. (Accessed 14 December 2010)
  9. ^ RatCreature. Through the Looking Glass: Alternate Universe Recs for Miscellaneous Fandoms. (Accessed 14 December 2010)
  10. ^ marguerite_26. Modern AU Arthur/Merlin Recs, 22 October 2010. (Accessed 14 December 2010)
  11. ^ facetofcathy. Arcane Asylum, dated April 29, 2011 (Accessed 28 June 2013)