Saturday, January 12, 2013

once and future king

The Once and Future King is T.H. White’s famous retelling of the King Arthur story; a story which grows up with Arthur along the way. The books is actually four stories (or books) in one; each about a different time period in the legendary king's life. The first story: The Sword in the Stone is about how Arthur grew up and was educated by Merlyn in the countryside of England, and is much more fanciful and magical than the later stories. In fact, White makes a point of discussing how the magic that existed in Arthur's youth wanes as he gets older. There just aren't as many dragons and unicorns around any more.

The Sword in the Stone was first published in 1938. Disney made an animated version of this story in 1963. yeah, 50 years ago I remember seeing this movie in the theater with my dad. It must have been a birthday or something, and the movie must have been re-released because this would have been in the early to mid-seventies.

The Queen of Air and Darkness was published the following year, 1964, and was also published separately, and in a slightly different form, according to Wikipedia, as The Witch in the Wood. This is not a long story, and tells mainly of the three sisters Mogan le Fay, Morgause, and Elaine, daughters of the Earl of Cornwall, Gorlois and his wife Igraine. White tells us that Uther Pendragon wanted Igraine for himself and besieged and eventually killed the Earl and then married his widow. Uther's step-daughters were not happy about this and the feud continues on into Arthur's reign.

The Ill-Made Knight,  is the longest book and focuses mainly on Sir Lancelot, and his relationship with Arthur and Arthur's queen, Guenivere. I enjoyed this story very much, especially the complex love triangle these three form, that eventually lasts their entire lives. White's treatment of these characters is very modern, and the story of their mutual love is both complex and subtle. White turns these three legendary characters into real people. Guenivere, for example, is called, alternatively, Gwen and sometimes simply Jenny, by the men who love her.

The Candle in the Wind was first published in the composite edition in 1958. Its a kind of swan song, lets-wrap-things-up kind-of story. I can imagine this short story/novella being written to satisfy an audience who may have felt that things hadn't been completely wrapped up. I guess this story sort of fits the bill, but then White came back in the end and added one more story, published separately entitled: The Book of Merlyn. Many regard this as part of The Once and Future King series.

All through the stories White refers to Mallory as the go to source for much of his own information, and tells readers they can consult with Mallory themselves, if they would like additional information, which White may have left our of the story; considering said information to be be perhaps, too dull for his more modern readers. White is clearly a fan however, and even gives Mallory a final nod within the text of The Candle in the Wind.

Seems like the go to book for King Arthur, but there are lots to choose from! It was pretty good.


  1. One of the very few books i couldnt make myself finish. It was a long time ago and i dont remember why. think i got bored.

    1. There were some boring parts. This took a while to pound through so I wouldn't recommend it unless you love King Arthur stories. If you just like the genre then "King of Thrones" or even "The Lord of the Rings" would be a better bet.


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