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Witch in the Wood by T. H. White

Witch in the Wood (1939)

by T. H. White

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775156,384 (3.67)10
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    Hawk of May by Gillian Bradshaw (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Two books about Sir Gawain growing up

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This is a weird one. It’s the second book in TH White’s larger work The Once and Future King, and at one stage it was extensively written and republished. From descriptions online I seem to have read the revised version, which is much shorter, but I’ve seen conflicting information as to which is called The Witch in the Wood and which is called The Queen of Air and Darkness. My ebook version, which is the series as a single work, has it as The Witch in the Wood, anyway.

This is also an odd one because it’s much, much shorter than The Sword in the Stone and also far less interesting and eventful. It’s split between the Scottish island of Orkney, with a plotline involving the witch-queen Morgause, her four children, and the bumbling knight King Pellinore and his companions, and a different section further south involving Arthur, Kay and Merlyn as they fight an uprising. This section was the more interesting; White’s time-travelling Merlyn, with his contemporary language and knowledge of the 20th century, is a wonderful character, and the three of them have interesting discussions about the nature of politics, war, and the justification of force. I thought this was an interesting quote (even though I disagree with it), given that it’s the eve of the Scottish independence referendum:

“I could never stomach these nationalists,” he exclaimed. “The destiny of Man is to unite, not to divide. If you keep on dividing you end up as a collection of monkeys throwing nuts at each other out of separate trees.”

Overall The Witch in the Wood seems to be a bridging novel, between the establishment of the series in The Sword in the Stone, and the later novels, which is presumably where the meat of it all is. I wouldn’t say I’m disliking the series, but so far I haven’t seen anything to support the popular claim that it’s one of the greatest fantasy series of all time, and if it wasn’t for that claim I probably wouldn’t be pushing on with it. ( )
  edgeworth | Sep 18, 2014 |
Otherwise known as "The Queen of Air and Darkness" ( )
  leslie.98 | Oct 26, 2013 |
The Queen of Air and Darkness is shorter and less rich than the first book, I think. There's less of Arthur and Merlyn, and more interludes spent -- carrying most of the humour of the story -- with Pellinore and Sir Grummore, and the Questing Beast.

It does do several important jobs: introduce Gawaine and his brothers, foreshadow the birth of Mordred and the consequences of the incest, and begin to set Arthur up as a noble king, one who is doing things a little differently to the traditional ways kings are meant to behave.

Despite the relatively smaller scope, it's still an enjoyable read. Funny in places, and easy to read, and well-written, with passages of surprising beauty given the general humorous tone. It's probably better to take it in context with the other books, rather than think of it separately. ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 28, 2013 |
I have to stand by my old review of this almost to the letter. It's shorter than The Sword in the Stone, and the humour is less evenly distributed -- there's a sort of humour about Morgause and her sons, I suppose, but it's not the same warm kind that Pellinore and Palimedes carry in this book, or that attended just about everyone in the first book. Again, some parts are surprisingly beautiful given the overall tone of the book, and it introduces a lot of characters and begins to develop Arthur into a king rather than just a boy.

Of course, now I'm trying to remember the publishing history of this -- it was once longer, maybe? It got totally revised as some point, I know that much. That might be part of what makes it less appealing. ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
The second book in "The Once and Future King" begins the tragical part of the tale. It is much shorter than "The Sword in the Stone" and has two main stories: the childhood of the Orkney children and the antics of the lovelorn King Pellinore and his friends. Though joined by the unicorn plot the tone of the two are very different. The plight of the Orkney children with their quarrels and sufferings is tragic while the masquerade of Sir Palomides and Sir Grummore as the Questing Beast is entirely comic.

It is easy to identify with Gareth's distress and escapist imaginings, with Gawaine's anger and ferocity, and even with Agravaine's contemptuous intellectualism.

Neville Jason's reading is outstanding. ( )
  themulhern | Sep 1, 2012 |
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