Stories of Excalibur, King Arthur, and his Knights of the Round Table are legendary throughout both film and literary history. A young man is chosen to rule Camelot with a wise wizard named Merlin by his side, destined to bring peace and justice throughout the land of Britain. But what if that story played out a bit differently? What if the true wielder of Excalibur turned out to be not a man, but a woman. That’s the general premise behind Netflix’s newest series, Cursed, which follows the story of a teenage sorceress named Nimue (Katherine Langford), who finds herself tasked with delivering the iconic sword to Merlin. However, instead of relinquishing the sword to someone else, she uses it to save her people.
The fantasy series, based on Tom Wheeler and Frank Miller’s bestselling novel of the same name, serves as a fictional retelling of Arthurian legend, yet it wouldn’t be surprising if the name Nimue sounds somewhat familiar even if you can’t put your finger on exactly why. That’s because the character has popped up numerous times throughout many of Merlin and King Arthur’s stories, though, like most of the female characters within this mythology, she’s never been given the time or attention she truly deserves.
Netflix's new series seeks to change all of that by providing Nimue with an unexplored backstory, but for those who are curious to learn more about the character’s history outside of the Netflix series, here’s what came before Cursed flipped the script.
Who Is Nimue, Historically Speaking?
In most versions of King Arthur’s story, Nimue ultimately becomes the Lady of the Lake, a mysterious water enchantress whose main purpose is to emerge from a lake in order to give Arthur his destined sword, Excalibur. However, given how many different variations of Arthurian mythos are in existence, that’s not the only version of Nimue out there.
In some iterations, she serves as an entity completely separate from the Lady of the Lake, whether that involves taking a dying Arthur to Avalon or trapping Merlin inside of a tree and becoming Arthur’s main advisor. In some instances, she also acts as the foster mother to Sir Lancelot after his parents die. Sometimes she’s seen as a villain, while other times she’s painted as a much more sympathetic character.
Each retelling offers a different story of who this being really is, making it difficult to get a proper read on her motivations. In fact, even Langford found it somewhat difficult to research Nimue, given how little actual information exists about her. “When I went to look up Nimue, I'd heard of the Lady of the Lake and I'd seen beautiful artwork of the Lady of the Lake but the character herself, I knew very little about,” Langford told PopSugar during a recent interview. “There wasn't an awful lot of information out there about her.”
Nimue's Powers & The Hidden
Historically, Nimue aka The Lady of the Lake is simply an enchantress with vague magical powers. In all iterations though, her powers are nature based (water enchanting, trapping Merlin in a tree — you get the idea). In Cursed, that gets a little more specific.
Nimue is equipped with powers inherited from her Fey race called the Sky Folk, which are briefly teased in the Cursed trailer.
At the end of the clip, green vines start to form on the sides of her face as she concentrates on harnessing her powers; her magical capabilities are connected to nature, vegetation, and the world around her. We'll learn early on in the series that these nature-bound powers are tied to her ability to call upon nature spirits, referred to as The Hidden.
When speaking to TV Insider about the upcoming series, Wheeler further described Nimue’s abilities as "an elemental power — a command over the trees and the fire and the wind that is shocking and often beyond her control." But as the series' title suggests, great power can prove to be both a blessing and a curse.
The Meaning Of The Name Nimue
Unlike details about the character herself, the meaning of her name is a lot less cloaked in mystery. The name is of Celtic origin and is one of the names traditionally given to the Lady of the Lake. It is said to come from the Greek word “Mneme,” which means memory.
Nimue & Merlin's History
The legend of Nimue and Merlin is somewhat complicated and, like many details surrounding the characters, tends to change with each retelling. In the Lancelot-Grail or Vulgate Cycle version, Nimue manipulates Merlin into teaching her all of his magical secrets before trapping him inside of a tree.
However, in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d'Arthur, she serves as more of the protagonist figure. Nimue still curses Merlin into a tree, but only as a way to stop his unwanted advances toward her. Merlin had even foreseen his fate, yet he was so infatuated with Nimue that he allowed for it to happen anyway. That’s what you get for being a creep, Merlin.
In the Netflix series, Merlin has a much, much different relationship with Nimue. We'll let you discover the shocking swap yourself, but it seems that Cursed really threw out the book on this one.
The Lady Of The Lake & Excalibur
And lastly, the Lady Of The Lake's main association with the sword is keeping it safe only to make sure the weapon ends up in the hands of King Arthur. That's it.
The literature never goes into further detail about her connection with the sword, such as why she was given this task in the first place or how she initially came by the sword to begin with. Nimue has also never been known to use it, which is something that Cursed seeks to rectify.
Now, we have a fully-formed, three-dimensional Nimue, who is so much more than a mystical postal service.