T.H. White wrote The Book of Merlyn as the fifth and final book in his Arthurian epic The Once and Future King, but he failed to convince his publisher to include it. I see why. It’s not that I didn’t find anything to like about it. It’s just that the tone is so cerebral and abstract. It’s been awhile since I read the other four books, but as I recall their forays into philosophy were shorter-lived than this. (Aside: do other people find themselves going…Continue Reading “The Book of Merlyn”

The fourth and concluding tale in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King went by all too quickly. I remember being frustrated by the meandering quality of the narrative in the first book of the series, The Sword in the Stone. Apparently I got used to it. The Candle in the Wind blew past in  three days. (I’m not a fast reader, so that’s pretty speedy for me.) This story was not intended to be the last, so it doesn’t end the way White envisioned when he mapped out the…Continue Reading “The Candle In the Wind”

I’ve finished The Ill-Made Knight, the third tale of The Once and Future King. In this story we learn about Lancelot and Guenever, watch Arthur’s England continue to evolve, and observe the ways he continues tweaking his Round Table philosophy. It’s difficult to describe T.H. White’s narrative voice: startling, forceful, wry, deeply wise, matter-of-fact. It’s somewhere between Monty Python and… J.R.R. Tolkien? There’s a comic distance from the characters that’s achieved through bluntness, but such a sympathy for them, and such a detailed knowledge of the chivalric era he’s writing about….Continue Reading “The Ill-Made Knight”

Warning: plot spoilers ahead… T.H. White’s The Queen of Air and Darkness (1939) is the second of four stories that make up The Once and Future King. Following on the heels of The Sword in the Stone, this book made for a darker and more subdued reading experience. Originally named The Witch in the Wood, it relates the first chapter of Arthur’s kingship, showing the flowering of his character, his leadership in the Battle of Bedegraine, and the fathering of Mordred through his half-sister, Queen Morgause (referred to in the title). There were a…Continue Reading “The Queen of Air and Darkness — Review”

The Queen of Air and Darkness is concerned with whether Might makes Right. Though I’m not normally that tuned in to politics, lately it seems that everything I read triggers reflection on something in current events. Take this passage, for instance, in which Merlyn and Sir Kay consider war. It’s very difficult not to think (while breaking into a cold sweat) about the war in Iraq. Sir Kay, King Arthur’s half-brother, begins: “By the way. You remember that argument we were having about aggression? Well,…Continue Reading “The Queen of Air and Darkness”

T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone (1938) is spoken of in my Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia as “a witty and erudite fantasy of Arthur’s boyhood, which combines affectionate satire on 20th-century English manners and mores with broad humor and deep knowledge of both nature and the Middle Ages.” Thank you, Benet’s, for capturing my own hyperbolic reaction to the book so compactly, because otherwise I might ramble on and on about what it is before getting to why I liked it. It’s not a children’s book, but…Continue Reading “The Sword in the Stone”

Embedded in the rollicking fun of T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone is this gem: “Sometimes,” he said, “life does seem to be unfair. Do you know the story of Elijah and the Rabbi Jachanan?” “No,” said the Wart. He sat down resignedly upon the most comfortable part of the floor, perceiving that he was in for something like the parable of the looking-glass. “This rabbi,” said Merlin, “went on a journey with the prophet Elijah. They walked all day, and at nightfall they came to…Continue Reading “Story within a story”