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The Once and Future King (1958)

by T. H. White

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
13,729185340 (4.09)2 / 698
The complete box set of T. H. Whites epic fantasy novel of the Arthurian legend. The novel is made up of five parts: The Sword in the Stone, The Witch in the Wood, The Ill-Made Knight, The Candle in the Wind and The Book of Merlyn. Merlyn instructs the Wart (Arthur) and his brother Sir Kay in the ways of the world. One of them will need it the King has died leaving no heir, and a rightful one must be found by pulling a sword from an anvil resting on a stone. In the second and third parts of the novel, Arthur has become King and the kingdom is threatened from the north. In the final two books, the ageing king faces his greatest challenge, when his own son threatens to overthrow him. In The Book of Merlyn, Arthurs tutor Merlyn reappears, and teaches him that, even in the face of apparent ruin, there is hope.… (more)
  1. 100
    The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck (g026r)
  2. 71
    Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott (LamontCranston)
  3. 52
    The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula K. Le Guin (LamontCranston)
  4. 20
    Guinevere's Gift by Nancy Mckenzie (wordcauldron)
  5. 20
    The Squire's Tale by Gerald Morris (foggidawn)
  6. 20
    The Age of Scandal by T. H. White (BINDINGSTHATLAST)
    BINDINGSTHATLAST: Anotherside of White
  7. 20
    Arthur Rex: A Legendary Novel by Thomas Berger (eromsted)
    eromsted: For a comic take on the legend
  8. 10
    Queen of Camelot by Nancy Mckenzie (wordcauldron)
    wordcauldron: My favorite retelling of Arthurian legend. Period.
  9. 22
    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)
1950s (33)
1940s (31)
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English (180)  Dutch (3)  German (1)  All languages (184)
Showing 1-5 of 180 (next | show all)
DNF

This did not work for me at all. ( )
  QuirkyCat_13 | Jun 20, 2022 |
This has been on the ol' to-read list more than half my life. I was finally in a state of mind to be captured by it.

It was more episodic and philosophical than I expected. I had anticipated magic, action, and sensory details. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by a thoughtful, self-aware, humorous narrator who pivoted quickly from grand, sweeping views of the historical period (a mix of real and fantasy UK) to suddenly intimate, psychological character studies of the main figures. For the most part, when there was dramatic violence or unusual magic or other classic elements of the genre, White presented them quickly, almost perfunctorily. The first book lays the groundwork for this, though. It sort of gets "the fun" out of the way when Arthur is a child by indulging the most fantastic episodes of all four books. Once Arthur is king, the fundamentals of Merlyn's lessons are reflected in the shift in narrative style from magical fantasy to historical, human drama. It's still fanciful, but it becomes quite tragic and depressing. I clearly had not really known anything about this classic beyond a general acquaintance with the characters and plot, so this style came out of left field. I liked it, but it still felt plodding at times.

It is irresistably quotable. A few that I highlighted:

"Don't ever let anybody teach you to think, Lance: it is the curse of the world."

"The heart of tragedy does not lie in stealing or taking away. Any featherpated girl can steal a heart. It lies in giving, in putting on, in adding, in smothering without the pillows. Desdemona robbed of life or honour is nothing to a Mordred, robbed of himself..."

"Perhaps man was neither good nor bad, was only a machine in an insensate universe, his courage no more than a reflex to danger, like the automatic jump at the pin-prick. Perhaps there were no virtues, unless jumping at pin-pricks was a virtue, and humanity only a mechanical donkey led on by the iron carrot of love, through the pointless treadmill of reproduction. Perhaps Might was a law of Nature, needed to keep the survivors fit."

"We begin to forget, as we go stolidly balancing along, that there could have been a time when we were young bodies flaming with the impetus of life. It is hardly consoling to remember such a feeling, and so it deadens in our minds. But there was a time when each of us stood naked before the world, confronting life as a serious problem with which we were intimately and passionately concerned... All these problems and feelings fade away when we get the seventh sense... The bodies which we loved, the truths which we sought, the Gods whom we questioned: we are deaf and blind to them now, safely and automatically balancing along toward the inevitable grave, under the protection of our last sense." ( )
  invisiblecityzen | Mar 13, 2022 |
This has been on the ol' to-read list more than half my life. I was finally in a state of mind to be captured by it.

It was more episodic and philosophical than I expected. I had anticipated magic, action, and sensory details. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by a thoughtful, self-aware, humorous narrator who pivoted quickly from grand, sweeping views of the historical period (a mix of real and fantasy UK) to suddenly intimate, psychological character studies of the main figures. For the most part, when there was dramatic violence or unusual magic or other classic elements of the genre, White presented them quickly, almost perfunctorily. The first book lays the groundwork for this, though. It sort of gets "the fun" out of the way when Arthur is a child by indulging the most fantastic episodes of all four books. Once Arthur is king, the fundamentals of Merlyn's lessons are reflected in the shift in narrative style from magical fantasy to historical, human drama. It's still fanciful, but it becomes quite tragic and depressing. I clearly had not really known anything about this classic beyond a general acquaintance with the characters and plot, so this style came out of left field. I liked it, but it still felt plodding at times.

It is irresistably quotable. A few that I highlighted:

"Don't ever let anybody teach you to think, Lance: it is the curse of the world."

"The heart of tragedy does not lie in stealing or taking away. Any featherpated girl can steal a heart. It lies in giving, in putting on, in adding, in smothering without the pillows. Desdemona robbed of life or honour is nothing to a Mordred, robbed of himself..."

"Perhaps man was neither good nor bad, was only a machine in an insensate universe, his courage no more than a reflex to danger, like the automatic jump at the pin-prick. Perhaps there were no virtues, unless jumping at pin-pricks was a virtue, and humanity only a mechanical donkey led on by the iron carrot of love, through the pointless treadmill of reproduction. Perhaps Might was a law of Nature, needed to keep the survivors fit."

"We begin to forget, as we go stolidly balancing along, that there could have been a time when we were young bodies flaming with the impetus of life. It is hardly consoling to remember such a feeling, and so it deadens in our minds. But there was a time when each of us stood naked before the world, confronting life as a serious problem with which we were intimately and passionately concerned... All these problems and feelings fade away when we get the seventh sense... The bodies which we loved, the truths which we sought, the Gods whom we questioned: we are deaf and blind to them now, safely and automatically balancing along toward the inevitable grave, under the protection of our last sense." ( )
  invisiblecityzen | Mar 13, 2022 |
2563
  chell3 | Oct 29, 2021 |
Abandoned at 2/4 stories read.

My reviews here:
Sword in the Stone review (2 star)
Witch in the Wood review (1 star)

It's not without merit; the style of writing was beautiful. I've heard that the later stories are better. But overall it was so unpleasant, meandering and offensive that I couldn't bring myself to read any further. ( )
  Katrana | Oct 18, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 180 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
T. H. Whiteprimary authorall editionscalculated
Crossley-Holland, KevinIntroductionsecondary authorsome 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
Westrup, Jadwiga P.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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...'
Dedication
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.
Quotations
“If I were to be made a knight,” said the Wart, staring dreamily into the fire, “I should insist on doing my vigil by myself, as Hob does with his hawks, and I should pray to God to let me encounter all the evil in the world in my own person, so that if I conquered there would be none left, and, if I were defeated, I would be the one to suffer for it.”
“That would be extremely presumptuous of you,” said Merlyn, “and you would be conquered, and you would suffer for it.”
“I shouldn’t mind.”
“Wouldn’t you? Wait till it happens and see.”
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
Blurbers
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS
Canonical LCC

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (2)

The complete box set of T. H. Whites epic fantasy novel of the Arthurian legend. The novel is made up of five parts: The Sword in the Stone, The Witch in the Wood, The Ill-Made Knight, The Candle in the Wind and The Book of Merlyn. Merlyn instructs the Wart (Arthur) and his brother Sir Kay in the ways of the world. One of them will need it the King has died leaving no heir, and a rightful one must be found by pulling a sword from an anvil resting on a stone. In the second and third parts of the novel, Arthur has become King and the kingdom is threatened from the north. In the final two books, the ageing king faces his greatest challenge, when his own son threatens to overthrow him. In The Book of Merlyn, Arthurs tutor Merlyn reappears, and teaches him that, even in the face of apparent ruin, there is hope.

No library descriptions found.

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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Average: (4.09)
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1 28
1.5 6
2 113
2.5 17
3 395
3.5 92
4 819
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