Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Once and Future King
by T. H. White

Everyone knows the story of Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. It's the story of mighty and chivalrous knights having adventures under the reign of the just King Arthur. It's the story of the love affair between Lancelot and Guenever. And it's the story of Arthur's fall at the hands of his son, Mordred. T. H. White has taken the famous text Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Malory and re-written it in four parts: Aurthur's childhood, his early kingship and the young lives of the Orkney clan, Lancelot's adventures and his relationship with Guenever, and the fall of the Round Table. 

I had zero expectations when I began reading this book. I picked it up because I knew it was based on Arthurian legend, a subject that I've always enjoyed. What I noticed immediately was a similarity in tone between this book and J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. White writes with a similar sense of humour, especially in the first section, entitled "The Sword in the Stone" (which was adapted into a Disney movie by the same name).

What I enjoyed most about this book was White's treatment of the main players: Arthur, Merlyn, Guenever, Lancelot, and Mordred. People often think of them as stereotypes, but in The Once and Future King, White takes pains to explain their individual foibles to the reader. This cast of characters is much easier for modern readers to identify with and like.

However, I think that White takes his explanations a little too far at the end of the book. In the last section, there is a lengthy a meditation on war, government, and how humanity ought to act. I wouldn't go so far as to call it sermonizing, but it's a bit of a heavy weight for the book to hold up at the end. I would have preferred the narrative itself to pass on the moral of the story, but alas, it's not so. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable, often humourous, if long, read. I do recommend it, especially to those who enjoy Arthurian legend.

Copy source: library
Genre: fantasy
Format: hardcopy

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