The Once And Future King by TH White
T.H. White's masterful retelling of the Arthurian legend is an abiding classic. The Once and Future King, contains all four books about the early life of King Arthur (The Sword in the Stone , The Witch in the Wood , The Ill-Made Knight and The Candle in the Wind). Exquisite comedy offsets the tragedy of Arthur's personal doom as White brings to life the major British epic of all time with brilliance, grandeur, warmth and charm.
The Once and Future King is a serious work, delightful and witty, yet very sombre overall. The volume published as The Once and Future King is actually four works separately composed over about 20 years. The first, The Sword in the Stone, concerns the lost childhood of Arthur, future king of England, and his education by Merlyn. The second, The Queen of Air and Darkness, tells the story of adolescent sons of Orkney and their mother, Morgause. The third, The Ill-Made Knight, takes up the story of Sir Lancelot and his uneasy relation- ship with Queen Guenever and with Arthur. The fourth, The Candle in the Wind, concerns the end of the Round Table and Arthur's death.
White uses the inherent flexibility of prose to deliver a lot of information, not only background information that makes it easy for the modern reader to picture 12th- and 13th- century England, but also good analogues to modern society that work not only to clarify what might be confusing, but also to show the continuity of English life from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. (Guardian.co.uk)
‘Magnificent and tragic, and irresistible mixture of gaiety and pathos’ The Sunday Times
‘This ambitious work will long remain a memorial to an author who is at once civilized, learned, witty and humane’ Times Literary Supplement
This The Once And Future King book review was written by Floresiensis
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The Once And Future King reader reviews
David from United Kingdom
It is always dangerous to return to a book that had an impact at a young age, the memory of it preserved in amber, something untouchable. There is always the chance that, in later life, the book will let you down, not be that thing you once thought it was. I'm glad to say that TH White's The Once And Future King is, if anything, even better than I recalled. White's retelling of the Arthurian legend is a joy from start to finish. The central conceit that allows him to set the tale in the Age of Chivalry is that it wasn't William that conquered Britain, it was Arthur's father, Uther Pendragon. Thus we get all the romance and tragedy of Malory's tale, but retold for a modern sensibility, with a large dose of the author's worldview for good measure. Split into four books (all originally published separately) we start with The Sword in The Stone, probably the most famous part of the story due to its adaptation into a Disney animation back in the 1960s, which tells of Arthur's childhood in the care of his foster father Sir Ector of the Forest Sauvage. Here we meet Merlyn, depicted by White as a somewhat eccentric old man, tutor to Arthur and his foster brother, Kay. It's a rip-roaring read and Arthur has some wild adventures as Merlyn teaches him valuable lessons by changing him into various animals, forcing the young Wart to think about the big ideas. Arthur here is an ordinary boy, chosen to live an extraordinary life. Thinking about such abstract concepts as justice and the use and abuse of power does not come easily to Arthur. But it's beautifully told, with the central tragedy foreshadowed and Arthur reluctantly assuming the kingship of Britain and beginning his fateful destiny. Next is The Queen of Air and Darkness, where the focus shifts to the Orkney brothers, Gawaine, Agravaine, Gaheris and Gareth. While Arthur fights battles to bring his kingdom to order, the Orkneys grow up under the scant, fickle affections of their witch-mother Morgause (one of the Cornwall sisters along with Morgan Le Fay and Elaine). It's the shortest book, but the most vital in terms of setting out the main strands of what follows. The Round Table, Merlyn leaving, Mordred, Lancelot, all have their beginnings in this darker tale. It's one of the neat touches of the book as a whole that as each story continues it becomes more adult, growing with the characters. The Ill-Made Knight turns our attention to Lancelot, the best knight in the world. There's so much in this book - Guenever, Elaine, Galahad, the Grail Quest, death, betrayal, adventure and lots of angst. The central triangle of Arthur, Guenever and Lancelot is shown in all its complexity. In White's hands these are real people with real emotions: petulance, sorrow, love, madness. In the pages of this book Arthur's dream of Might for Right reaches its apex before it slowly starts to curdle, to fall apart. The tragedy lumbers on with all the force of destiny behind it. Finally there is The Candle in The Wind, where Arthur, now an old man worn down by death and the failure of his Table tries hard to give Mordred, his son by his half-sister Morgause, all the love he can. But to no avail. The hatred in Mordred's heart will split the kingdom and usher in a new Dark Age. White wrote this final part while Europe fell under the shadow of Fascism and there are obvious parallels in Mordred's black clad followers. There is death here and betrayal, and a moving end to the tale as Arthur realises that all his efforts might not have been in vain, that the ideals of the Table might live on and their time come again. For my money this is the best retelling of the Arthurian legends ever written. White picks and chooses from Malory to construct a story that works on many levels. There is philosophy running through this book that makes you question how the world is run and how it can be made better. But it's also funny, moving and fantastically well-written. Still one of my favourites. Go read.
Simon from Conisbrough
The first book about Arthur's childhood is absolute magic. I found the following three books to be very disappointing. Sword in the Stone 10/10....the other books 3/10.
9.8/10 from 3 reviews
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