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The Once and Future King by T. H. White
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The Once and Future King (original 1958; edition 1987)

by T. H. White (Author)

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

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
15,484207354 (4.08)2 / 769
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Witch in the Wood (1939; here called "The Queen of Air and Darkness"), The Ill-Made Knight (1940), and the previously unpublished section, "The Candle in the Wind."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)
Member:ladyshipchelle
Title:The Once and Future King
Authors:T. H. White (Author)
Info:Ace Books (1987), Edition: Reprint, 639 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
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Work Information

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

  1. 90
    The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck (g026r)
  2. 61
    Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott (LamontCranston)
  3. 20
    Arthur Rex: A Legendary Novel by Thomas Berger (eromsted)
    eromsted: For a comic take on the legend
  4. 42
    The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula K. Le Guin (LamontCranston)
  5. 10
    The Squire's Tale by Gerald Morris (foggidawn)
  6. 10
    The Age of Scandal by T. H. White (BINDINGSTHATLAST)
    BINDINGSTHATLAST: Anotherside of White
  7. 10
    Guinevere's Gift by Nancy Mckenzie (wordcauldron)
  8. 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)
  9. 00
    Queen of Camelot by Nancy Mckenzie (wordcauldron)
    wordcauldron: My favorite retelling of Arthurian legend. Period.
1950s (34)
1940s (31)
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» See also 769 mentions

English (203)  Dutch (3)  German (1)  All languages (207)
Showing 1-5 of 203 (next | show all)
I have no idea what to make of this book. It’s the second book in The Once and Future King quartet, was extensively revised after initial publication, when it was titled The Queen of Air and Darkness. Except The Witch in the Wood is supposedly longer than The Queen of Air and Darkness, but the version I read, which had the former title, was barely 100 pages long. And, to be honest, it didn't have much of a plot. Arthur is now king, but apparently not everyone has accepted this so he has to fight to prove himself. Merlyn lectures him on how fighting for the sake of fighting is not a good idea, and while combat may be fun for knights, it isn’t for the serfs, the foot soldiers, who get killed in large numbers. Meanwhile, King Pellinore is visiting Orkney with two companions, while King Lot is off fighting Arthur. Pellinore didn’t want to be there–he was following the Questing Beast, and having great fun, and then he fell in love with the daughter of the King of Flanders, but this magic boat appeared so he climbed into it. And now he’s stuck in Orkney. His friends try to improve his mood by faking the Questing Beast, but the real Questing Beast turns up and falls in love with their fake one (think pantomime horse). Then there’s a big battle and Arthur revolutionises tactics by attacking the knights and not the serfs. So, of course, he wins. This didn’t even feel like a novel, more like an info-dump. The scenes with Sir Grummor and Sir Palomides are funny, but feel like music hall. There are several lectures on politics and authority, which reference Hitler, and are well argued. But none of it feels like a novel in a series of four. I mean, White’s prose is… idiosyncratic, but so much more appealing than Tolkien’s. White throws in anachronisms, but he makes it work. And he’s funny. The Hobbit cannot compare. Two more books to go, but it’s already clear The Once and Future King is greatly superior to The Hobbit. ( )
  iansales | Jul 9, 2024 |
Read this in high school and I really enjoyed it. ( )
  LaPhenix | Jul 8, 2024 |
This book is a mess, but kind of a glorious, interesting mess. It is a retelling of the Arthurian legend, based on Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. As originally published, it consisted of four books. After the author's death a fifth book (The Book of Merlyn) was published, and the edition of The Once and Future King I read included that too.

Let's talk about each of the books:

1) The Sword in the Stone: this is about Arthur's childhood, and about how the wizard Merlyn mentored him to prepare him to become the king of England who would put an end to the abuses of the often brutal feudal lords and redirect the energies of those warriors towards the defense of what is right. It is a children's book, told in a very whimsical way, with magic adventures, blundering and comical knights, Arthur being turned into different animals to learn lessons from them... White tells the story in a very conversational tone, on purpose using many anachronisms that contribute to the whimsical atmosphere of the story. However, there are also some serious themes underlying it all. White introduces a strong pacifist message in the story.

2) The Queen of Air and Darkness: this book is mostly about Queen Morgause and her children (Gawain, Agravain, Gaheris and Gareth... Mordred would come later). It tells how their mother's pernicious brand of love influenced and, to a certain extent, warped those children. It also tells how Mordred was conceived. At the same time, it tells about the first part of Arthur's reign and the wars he fought against the lords who were not ready to accept his vision. Although some whimsical elements remain (like King Pellinore's eternal persecution of the Questing Beast), the tone is much more serious. It is particularly interesting for the complex psychological portrayal of Gawain and his brothers.

3) The Ill-Made Knight: this book is mainly about Lancelot, and about his ill-fated love affair with Queen Guinevere. In White's hands, Lancelot is a truly complex and fascinating character. This is the longest book and and the one that develops the central themes of the story.

4) The Candle in the Wind: this book tells the end of Arthur's tale, and it shows how his kingdom and the Round Table fall apart, consumed by resentments and tragic sins.

5) The Book of Merlyn: this one was included in the edition I read, but in many other editions it is not included. It is set during Arthur's last night, when Merlyn appears again and they revisit many of the lessons he had as a boy, and spend too much time on lengthy political and philosophical lectures. I frankly did not see the point. I mean, I think Arthur's story is very well-suited for the pacifist message White includes, but sometimes the more a message is hammered the less effective it becomes. At this point in the narrative, these lectures are really out of place. They should have remained unpublished. If your edition has it, unless you are a completist, my advice would be to read only the last chapter of this book, which is a nice epilogue to Arthur's story.

All in all, the book is a bit disorganized. Sometimes an important event that we had not read about is mentioned in passing, and later it is actually told, thus causing some confusion. Sometimes White is given to digressions that contribute little to the story. However, it is also a huge, fascinating story, at times beautifully told. The interpretation of the characters is excellent. White makes them complex and conflicted, in a way that makes them seem real people. ( )
  jcm790 | May 26, 2024 |
My target is to have this read by 2020-09-26, for a book club zoom meeting that day. The zoom book club meeting came and went. The discussion was interesting even though I hadn’t finished the book.

This book expounds the idea that we do not have choice, that there is a course of life set for us that we cannot alter. I don’t believe that. I believe that we do have choice, and our choices make a difference in the direction of our lives and our resultant happiness.

Life is complicated in that most of the time our understanding is imperfect. Missteps were made by main characters because of their misunderstanding of who really cared for them, and who was plotting to betray them.

I like the ending. It did not wrap everything up and put a pretty bow around it. ( )
  bread2u | May 15, 2024 |
some funny, readable, enjoyable ( )
  farrhon | Mar 25, 2024 |
Showing 1-5 of 203 (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.”
"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting."
"Which did you like best," he asked, "the ants or the wild geese?"
"Yet here I am denouncing their ideas of nationalism, being what their politicians would call a traitor—because, by calling names, they can score the cheap debating points. And do you know another thing, Arthur? Life is too bitter already, without territories and wars and noble feuds."
"You have become the king of a domain in which the popular agitators hate each other for racial reasons, while the nobility fight each other for fun, and neither the racial maniac nor the overlord stops to consider the lot of the common soldier, who is the one person that gets hurt. Unless you can make the world wag better than it does at present, King, your reign will be an endless series of petty battles, in which the aggressions will either be from spiteful reasons or from sporting ones, and in which the poor man will be the only one who dies. "
Last words
(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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Canonical DDC/MDS
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Wikipedia in English (2)

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.

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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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