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The Once and Future King by T. H. White

The Once and Future King (1958)

by T.H. White

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Once and Future King (1-4)

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10,391141276 (4.1)2 / 515

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English (136)  Dutch (4)  German (1)  All languages (141)
Showing 1-5 of 136 (next | show all)
'***SPOILERS are abundant throughout this review, but any prior familiarity with Arthurian legend will also provide spoilers!

This was an impressive book with a few odd components and a generally positive contribution to Arthurian legend.

Regarding the odd components, I didn't like the first section of the book, in which Merlyn turned Arthur into animals. It was separate from the main story and did not contribute enough to the understanding of the characters to be worthwhile. Merlyn as a whole was problematic in this book and after his disappearance the book became more interesting. Yet, Merlyn did contribute one really wonderful thought- that nobody can take one's education away, that that always belongs internally to the individual no matter the external circumstance.

This was a sad book. Arthur tried to manage his section of the world by redirecting the use of force to more appropriate situations (to rescue people from bullies), but when they ran out of these situations, he had to find a different mission for the knights. So, he sent them on the quest for the Holy Grail, but the only ones who could find it were perfect (apparently partially because they were virgins) and were taken away, and the ones that remained were deeply flawed people, as we all are, and came back from the quest mostly unimproved. Arthur failed and lost much, including Gweneviere, Lancelot, and many of his friends, especially the Orkneys (Gawain, Agravaine, Gaheris, Gareth). He tried to do the right things and was unsuccessful, partially because of mistakes made in his youth (Mordred's situation). The ending shows Arthur hopeful again, but as a reader I was less convinced.

I enjoyed the attempt to present many of the characters realistically in this book, both male and female. While the Mists of Avalon was very female focused, and Arthur Rex was very male focused, this book seemed to be better balanced. It referenced the issues that would lead into world war and had a lot to say about violence as a means to solve problems, which is beyond the intent of all of the other Arthurian material I have read. It also included smaller bits of commentary on social issues. For example, White commented that it is so easy to cause a young child to feel self-hatred and consistently showed the effects of this on Lancelot's life.

Although this book does not replace Thomas Malory's work, it is an excellent addition and unreservedly recommended. ( )
1 vote karmiel | Jul 29, 2015 |
A book - no, four books - to revel in the language and the wit, relating the story of Arthur from his childhood as the Wart, living with Sir Ector, through his reign, the idealistic creation of the Round Table, the affair between Lancelot and Guinever, his old age and decline. The end, where Arthur, before going into final battle, reflects on his childhood and all he learnt with Merlin and observation of the animals, is incredibly profound and moving, in particular his thoughts about war:
"He remembered Lyo-lyok and the island which they had seen on their migration, where all those puffins, razorbills, guillemots and kittiwakes had lived together peacefully, preserving their own kinds of civilisation without war - because they claimed no boundaries. He saw the problem before him as plain as a map. The fantastic thing about war was that it was fought about nothing - literally nothing. Frontiers were imaginary lines. ... It was geography which was the cause - political geography. It was nothing else. Nations did not need to have the same kind of civilisation, nor the same kind of leader, any more than the puffins and the guillemots did. They could keep their own cilivisations, like Esquimaux and Hottentots, if they would give each other freedom of trade and free passage and access to the world. Countries would have to become counties - but counties which could keep their own culture and local laws. The imaginary lines on the earth's surface only needed to be unimagined. The airborne birds skipped them by nature. How mad the frontiers had seemed to Lyo-lyok, and would to Man if he could learn to fly." ( )
  overthemoon | Jul 19, 2015 |
I don't care what anyone says, this is not a classic to me. It's just a bad story with annoying characters. ( )
  Kurt.Rocourt | May 22, 2015 |
Amazing read that really immerses yourself into Arthur's and Merlyn's world. This is the collection of 4 of the books in Arthur's timeline. The first book, Sword in the Stone, is more of a children's tale that has a good deal of humor. When Arthur is more adult, the book itself is also more adult. I really like how the book tackles different themes. Arthur is first taught by Merlyn the proper way to rule, while when he is the king he has to maintain his kingdom. It covers problems that rulers probably experience regularly: justice, responsibility, peace, war, feuds, friendship and fidelity. In scenarios where right and wrong do not matter, but whatever is necessary to keep the peace. ( )
  renbedell | Apr 19, 2015 |
There have been many accounts of the Arthurian saga over the 1500 years, the best thought of the past century has been T.H. White's "The Once and Future King". Though White's prose is good and engaging, the narrative arc through is tetralogy-in-one edition is problematic enough that it sometimes overshadows the wonderful characters he has developed.

The first of the four individual works, "The Sword in the Stone", is the best of all four. White's writes wonderful characters, especially young Arthur (aka Wart), in well-rounded depth. The narrative flow of this work is the best of any of them and sets up the reign of Arthur that makes the reader look forward to seeing what happens next. Unfortunately in "The Queen of Air and Darkness" the characters are not well rounded and the narrative aimlessly wanders between England and the Orkneys without connecting the two until the last chapter when an evil scheme comes to fruition that the reader did not know what actually happening. The third and longest of the individual works, "The Ill-Made Knight" focuses on an ugly Lancelot, his love affair with Guinevere, and the knightly exploits of the Round Table. While this individual work is somewhat engaging, White emasculates Arthur both physically and mentally that continues into final individual work, "The Candle in the Wind", while other characters aren't even given much depth or story arc.

Throughout the entire writing, White injects himself and modern day elements throughout the entire book making it hard for the reader to keep to the narrative flow and maintain a "suspension of disbelief". Another unfortunate decision by White was to insist his story was real history of a part of the medieval era then mention "the supposed Henry III" or "the supposed Richard the Lionhearted" throughout. Also White assumed that his readers were versed in Thomas Malory's "The Death of Arthur", which I must admit a half century ago might have been the case, nowadays readers ironically look to "The Once and Future King." And there were White's tangents, whether it was philosophy or history, that were beautifully written but had no bearing whatsoever on the plot or characters or anything else he had just written about before he went down those literary side roads.

Upon completing "The Once and Future King", I can see why many people enjoyed it and rated it highly. However, I personally can't ignore narrative stumbles or downright tangents that made three-quarters of the book harder to read than the section covering "The Sword in the Stone". My advice before reading T.H. White is to read Malory's book first and be prepared for references from the 1930s to the late 50s, or you'll be taken aback. ( )
1 vote mattries37315 | Apr 15, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 136 (next | show all)
It knits together the funny, the moving, the fanciful and the psychologically astute in a rich tapestry of the medieval age of chivalry... Whatever else it is or is not. this is a book of profound patriotic piety which glorifies Arthur as the father of his country, and finds in the childlike wonder and faith of medieval England the crucible of future English greatness.
added by Shortride | editTime (Sep 8, 1958)

» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
White, T.H.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jason, NevilleNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lawrence, JohnIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marvin, FredericCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schuchart, MaxTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vat, Daan van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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She is not any common earth

Water or wood or air,

But Merlin's Isle of Gramarye

Where you and I will fare.
When shall I be dead and rid
Of the wrong my father did?
How long, how long, till spade and hearse
Put to sleep my mother's curse?
"Nay," said Sir Lancelot "... for

once shamed may never be recovered."
"He thought a little and said:

'I have found the Zoological Gardens of service to many of my patients.  I should prescribe for Mr. Pontifex a course of the larger mammals.  Don't let him think he is taking them medicinally...'
For J.A.J.A.
First words
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays it was Court Hand and Summulae Logicales, while the rest of the week it was the Organon, Repetition and Astrology. The governess was always getting muddled - she would take it out of the Wart by rapping his knuckles.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
These editions of The Once and Future King do NOT contain the Book of Merlyn. Please do not combine with the editions that DO contain the Book of Merlyn.
Publisher's editors
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Wikipedia in English (3)

Book description
The whole world knows and loves this book.  It is the magical epic of King Arthur and his shining Camelot; of Merlyn and Owl and Guinevere; of beasts who talk and men who fly; of wizardry and war.  It is the book of all things lost and wonderful and sad.  It is the fantasy masterpiece by which all others are judged.
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No descriptions found.

A revised omnibus edition of White's retelling of Arthurian legends. The first three sections of this book were originally published separately: The Sword in the Stone (1939), The Witch in the Wood (1939; here called "The Queen of Air and Darkness"), The Ill-Made Knight (1940), and the previously unpublished section, "The Candle in the Wind." The Book of Merlyn, written in 1941, was originally intended as the fifth and final book of the saga. It was first published by the University of Texas Press in 1977 and reissued by Berkley, 1978 (pap.). The whole world knows and loves this book. It is the magical epic of King Arthur and his shining Camelot; of Merlin and Owl and Guinevere; of beasts who talk and men who fly, of wizardry and war. It is the book of all things lost and wonderful and sad. It is the fantasy masterpiece by which all others are judged.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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