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The book of Merlyn : the unpublished…
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The book of Merlyn : the unpublished conclusion to The once and future… (original 1977; edition 1978)

by T. H. White

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Member:comfypants
Title:The book of Merlyn : the unpublished conclusion to The once and future king
Authors:T. H. White
Info:New York : Berkley, 1978, c1977.
Collections:Read
Rating:1/2
Tags:fantasy

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The Book of Merlyn by T. H. White (1977)

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T.H. White’s Arthurian saga The Once And Future King has a troubled publication history. The final volume, The Book of Merlyn, was submitted to his publishers in 1941 but was rejected as part of a collected volume due to wartime paper rationing. Undeterred, White took two major sequences in it – in which Merlyn transforms Arthur into an ant and then a goose – and inserted them into the first book, The Sword in the Stone. The Book of Merlyn was thus unincluded in later collected editions of the series, until the manuscript was discovered amongst White’s papers after his death in 1964. It was included in future collected editions from 1977 onwards, but – in order to present everything as accurately as possible – retains the ant and the goose sequences in The Sword in the Stone, while also later repeating them in The Book of Merlyn. (This is particularly notable because the goose sequence is probably the most famous and well-loved thing White ever wrote.)

It’s a bit less confusing when you’ve read it all the way through, but the funny thing is that those sequences feel a lot more like they belong in the first book, when Arthur was a child being transformed into animals all the time as part of his education with Merlyn, rather than the final book, where Arthur is whisked away on the night before the great battle with Mordred to discuss human nature and warfare with Merlyn and his council of wise animals. The vast majority of The Book of Merlyn takes place in the badger’s cosy underground den, which has the air of a cluttered library or gentleman’s parlour, as White (through Merlyn) expounds his philosophy about the wretched, violent nature of man.

Understanding T.H. White goes a long way towards understanding The Once and Future King, and my edition has an afterword discussing how the book came about. White was an unhappy man for much of his life: an alcoholic, a closeted homosexual, and a pacifist in a time of just war. When World War II was looming in 1939, he relocated himself to neutral Ireland and spent the rest of the war there as a conscientious objector. At this stage The Sword in the Stone had already been published, but it’s clear that the outbreak of WWII greatly influenced the rest of the series. “I have suddenly discovered that… the central theme to Morte d’Arthur is to find an antidote to war,” White wrote to his publisher. The Book of Merlyn expresses this more clearly than any other volume in the series; along with The Sword in the Stone, it effectively bookends the series, as Merlyn compares mankind to various animals – only now, with Arthur as an adult, he is no longer teaching him but rather discussing an intractable problem with him, to the king’s increasing weariness and despair.

The Book of Merlyn ultimately presents no conclusion on the matter, no coherent moral or philosophy, because White himself didn’t have one. He was a confused man, a man full of doubt, a man aghast at the horrors of the world, a man who tried to make sense of it all as best he could. He was a writer, in other words, who moulded his love of Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur into his own unique, funny, beautiful epic, a meditation on the failures and foibles of the human race.

I liked The Book of Merlyn a lot; it’s probably my favourite out of the series. Despite a current of nihilism and despair, White brought back all the elements that made The Sword in the Stone such a success, and the result is a sweet and affecting tale of a man who tried to do his best. I didn’t always enjoy The Once and Future King, but The Book of Merlyn is a strong conclusion which serves the series well. And as for the series overall? I may not have always liked it, I may have been bored and frustrated with it at times, but I can nonetheless appreciate it objectively as a powerful and important work of English fantasy. ( )
1 vote edgeworth | Dec 18, 2014 |
Although it was a little slow moving I felt that this was an interesting take on King Arthur's final moments as he reflects on his lessons from Merlin and prepares to die. ( )
  caseybp | Sep 19, 2014 |
This book was much publicized when it came out, but was disappointing. Apparently, the author used bits of it in the rest of "The Once and Future King". The characters are flat and didactic, and when I discovered that the book had been finished in 1941, the obsession with non-violence becomes understandable, but the treatment is unimaginative. give it a pass. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Aug 8, 2014 |
Interesting from an historical sense, T.H. White transferred large parts of "The Book of Merlyn" into "The Sword in the Stone." While uses this fifth volume to expostulate on war, writing during the early years of Britain's involvement in WWII. Unlike the earlier volumes that were included in "The Once and Future King," this one is less about Arthur or his knights than it is about mankind itself. Additionally, though White always included a bit of presentism through Merlyn, who is living backwards through time, this book has the most of it during Merlyn's lectures and those of the animals as they weigh in on mankind and its tendency to war. Arthur, when he is active, is brilliant as the representative of humanity trying his best to do right, but the story glosses over his death, with White discussing the various interpretations of Arthur's death through different writers as if he were writing a literary critique of his own work.
Anyone who wants to know more about White or the history behind "The Once and Future King" should pick up a copy of this if they come across it, but it's not necessary for enjoyment of the Arthurian legend as White interpreted it. The book is more about White's horror at World War II and, though it's beginning and end are tied to the larger narrative of "The Once and Future King," the middle is a philosophical lecture about the nature of war. Despite these caveats, White's beautiful prose is on full display here and Trevor Stubley's illustrations are haunting, especially as he portrays the aged Arthur. ( )
1 vote DarthDeverell | Feb 3, 2014 |
My All-time Favorite book ( )
  ejpells | Jan 13, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
T. H. Whiteprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lee, AlanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stubley, TrevorIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Warner, Syliva TownsendIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0425038262, Mass Market Paperback)

FOR USE IN SCHOOLS AND LIBRARIES ONLY.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:25 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Follows the events of the last days of King Arthur and his magician, Merlyn, in this conclusion to "The Once and Future King." An evocative and exciting tale of wizardry and war, this magnificent fantasy of the last days of King Arthur, his faithful magician and his animal teachers, completes the tragedy and romance of T. H. White's masterpiece The Once and Future King.… (more)

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» see all 2 descriptions

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