The Once and Future King

By: T. H. White
Fiction
1958
Rating: 3.5/5

The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King consists largely of a composite of works written by T. H. White in an earlier decade.

The second I found that out, this book instantly made more sense to me.

It’s written as four “books” which each have a unique focus and, to some extent, a unique protagonist.

It’s a work of Arthurian fiction, focused on the reign of King Arthur of England, his queen Guinever, the knights Lancelot and Gawaine of the Round Table, and the wizard Merlyn. All of that stuff from Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Yeah, that’s this time period.

So, yes, it’s definitely a fantasy book. There are people being turned into animals, magical terrible beasts to be killed, unicorns, that whole bit about Arthur pulling the sword out of the stone, and of course Merlyn himself.

White’s writing style is especially unique. He never quite lets you forget that you don’t live in the Middle Ages, or that the issues of those days are remarkably similar to the issues of ours. He likes to throw in little lines that shock you back to the present time.

But it’s almost like reading four separate books in one. It starts out with a very young Arthur, back before he was king or even a royal. This is the really heavy magical, fantastical part. It was well-written, sure, but not really my cup of tea. Then it jumps to the youth of the Orkney brothers and their magical family including Morgan le Fay. Book Three is about Lancelot’s youth and journey to becoming the greatest knight of them all. Then comes the fourth book, which is set in the old age of Arthur and his companions.

By this point, the writing has become much more adult alongside Arthur; the subject matter switches to war and philosophy and justice and right vs. wrong instead of magic or glory or animals or chivalry.

And it’s this journey that really shocked me, this development from a children’s tale about a child from a childlike perspective to a really very adult conversation about the morals of the world.

It’s an interesting perspective on the change from “might is right” to a more modern judicial system and the incredible social shift this required.

It takes a time period seemingly far removed from our own complete with complex family and social dynamics and makes it approachable and fun.

Definitely worth the (very long) read.

 

*****

 

If you enjoyed this book, try these suggestions:

(for more Arthurian literature)

Le Morte Darthur by Thomas Malory

Arthurian Romances by Chretien de Troyes

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight translated by J. R. R. Tolkein

Idylls of the King by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

(for more fantasy fiction)

Eragon by Christopher P

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

(for more by White)

The Goshawk by T. H. White

The Book of Merlyn by T. H. White

The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White

(for more Middle Age literature)

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

 

Coming up:

90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper

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