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The Once and Future King by T.H. White

The Once and Future King (original 1958; edition 1968)

by T.H. White

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11,099152253 (4.1)2 / 554
Title:The Once and Future King
Authors:T.H. White
Info:Berkley Publishing (1968), Mass Market Paperback
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Once and Future King by T.H. White (1958)

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    The Magicians by Lev Grossman (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: I thought of making this recommendation when reading the magical education section of The Magicians, which reminded me of the first book of The Once and Future King. But the wider idea - that magical powers can't stop us from making stupid human mistakes - is also relevant to both books.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 147 (next | show all)
This is one of my most favorite books ever. I just love all the stories of King Arthur and Merlin. I read this a while ago, but I can still remember my favorite parts.

I felt the story flowed along quite nicely and the characters were all engaging. There might be better King Arthur novels, but this one is still my favorite! ( )
  Sarah_Buckley | Sep 17, 2016 |
I've just finished reading this, my first reading and I'm nearly 65 years old. I find it a bit trite, which may be unfair because what has become trite is what other writers have done with White's own vision. Perhaps if I'd read this fifty years ago my feelings might be more favorable. No way comparable to The Mists of Avalon, but I guess I prefer more imaginative retellings like Marion Zimmer Bradley's. ( )
  CurrerBell | Jul 17, 2016 |

The Once and Future King was first published in 1958, and is mostly a composite of earlier works written between 1938 and 1941. The central theme is an exploration of human nature regarding power and justice, as the boy Arthur becomes king and attempts to quell the prevalent "might makes right" attitude with his idea of chivalry. But in the end, even chivalry comes undone since its justice is maintained by force.

The title comes from the inscription that, according to Sir Thomas Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur, was written upon King Arthur's tomb: Hic iacet Arthurus, rex quondam, rexque futurus – "Here lies Arthur, king once, and king to be.

Most of the book takes place in "Gramarye", the name White gives to Britain, and chronicles the raising and educating of King Arthur, his rule as a king, and the romance between Sir Lancelot and Queen Guenever. Though Arthur, if he existed at all, would have ruled some time around the 6th century, the book is set around the 14th century, and the actual monarchs of that period are referred to as "mythical". The book ends immediately before Arthur's final battle against his illegitimate son Mordred. Though White admits his book's source material is loosely derived from Le Morte d'Arthur, he reinterprets the epic events, filling them with renewed meaning for a world recovering from World War II.

The book is divided into four parts:
The Sword in the Stone (1938)
The Queen of Air and Darkness (1939)
The Ill-Made Knight (1940)
The Candle in the Wind (1958)

A final part, called The Book of Merlyn (written 1941, published 1977), was published separately following White's death. It chronicles Arthur's final lessons from Merlyn before his death, although some parts of it were incorporated into the final editions of the previous books.

Young "Wart" is the adopted son of a minor nobleman when he meets Merlyn, a kindly magician, who takes him on many adventures, turning him into several different animals and teaching him skills, both mental and physical. Wart is very happy and learns to treat people with respect and kindness. Soon after ,Wart pulls a magical sword from a stone, which proves him to be the rightful king of England (his real father was the recently dead King.) Merlyn, who knew this from the start, advises Wart-now called Arthur-on how to be a good king. What Arthur really wants to do is end chaos that passes for law in his country. He wants his men-the knights of the round table-to help defenseless people and prevent the rich and strong from simply dominating everyone. Many young knights love the idea and admire Arthur. Lancelot, who becomes the best knight in the world, and Arthur's best friend, still wrestles with self-doubt. Soon after he comes to court, he falls in love with Arthur's wife, Guenever. Arthur knows they are having an affair subconsciously, but he wants to pretend it isn't happening, so the three are able to live in relative harmony for many years.

Arthur builds the Round Table into a predictable form of justice. Other prominent knights include the brothers of the Orkney clan, sons of the witch Morgause, Arthur's half-sister. Their names are Gawaine, Gaheris, Agravaine, Gareth and Mordred. These men are close-knit and hot-tempered. They love Arthur but come from a family that has always hated England, and the youngest, Mordred, is in a dangerous position. He is actually the son of Arthur and Morgause (she seduced her half-brother when he was young and vulnerable.) Since he is younger and has a different father from his brothers, Mordred feels out of place and hated by everyone around him, and he is angry and looking for revenge. Since Guenever has never had children, Mordred is Arthur's only offspring and therefore could become king if he can upset the court. He sees his chance with Guenever and Lancelot.

Mordred knows that because Arthur is just, he will not be able to avoid punishing an illegal act (adultery and treason), even if it involves his best friends. Though both Lancelot and Guenever love Arthur, they themselves are so in love that they cannot stay apart. Lancelot is tormented by guilt, always trying to do the right thing, believing that he must punish himself, but never finding the strength to end the affair. Finally, Mordred forces Arthur to recognize their affair, and once it is recognized, Arthur has no choice but to prosecute his wife and his best friend. The court begins to crumble as everyone is forced to take sides. Arthur's peaceful vision is undermined by Mordred's schemes. Lancelot kills Gareth, Gaheris and Agravaine, only because he has to, but Mordred convinces Gawaine it is because Lancelot has always hated their family. Gawaine swears he will never forgive Lancelot and makes sure Arthur will not either. Arthur leaves the castle, forced to fight Lancelot in France, and Mordred convinces the public he is dead, forcing Guenever to accept his marriage proposal.

At this point Arthur is very old, but he still remembers his original vision of brotherhood, for a time realized with the Round Table. Listening to the sounds of warfare outside, he brings in a young boy and tells him his story, so that it will not be forgotten. Arthur recognizes that he must die and is at peace with this, knowing that his ideas for law and justice will return. The story pulls backward, explaining that each person's fate is one drop in the ocean of life. Lancelot and Guenever become a priest and nun, and Mordred is killed. But the vision lives on: Arthur is the "once and future king." ( )
  bostonwendym | Jul 12, 2016 |
What a way to end a year. This book is so full of hope and laughter, and then becomes one of sadness and despair, yet its views on humanity and human nature are just as profound as they were when I first read it at age 14.

And now, knowing how anachronistic this re-telling of the tale is, I understand so much more of what White was describing: how the suppression of the Saxons by the Normans was the start of Arthur's kingship, followed by the flowering of the High Middle Ages, and ending all by cannons. I am especially struck by Mordred's twisted spirit, Agravain's mindless focus on his mother (and his own hidden monstrosity), and the pulling of Arthur into his lawfulness and sadness. The principal actors become archetypes in this re-telling, and many tips of the hat are given to Mallory's description of the battles and panoply.

I know, I know, that Arthur was probably an anglicized Roman general, but the depth of feeling and heights of joy and despair just reflect so much better the heights and depths of the Dark and Middle Ages. ( )
  threadnsong | Jun 18, 2016 |
Quite possibly the best book written on the Arthurian legend. ( )
  ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 147 (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
Howe, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome 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.
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(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.
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Wikipedia in English (2)

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)

(summary from another edition)

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