Friday, November 18, 2011

The Once and Future King by T. H. White

One of the classics of Arthurian fiction is T.H. White's The Once and Future King. I spent, probably, a couple of years or more greedily reading just about any Arthurian Fiction I could find. I read T.H. White's The Once and Future King maybe around 15 years ago - it's been quite awhile. I remember enjoying it. I'm still a fan of Arthurian fiction, but I haven't read any in some time. The Once and Future King, I read when I was on that binge: fiction and non-fiction Arthurian material alike.

The Once and Future King is a book about King Arthur’s life. He starts out as a young boy who doesn’t know he’s destined to be king of England. He’s tutored by a wizard named Merlin, who seems to be living backwards from old age to young and seems to have knowledge of the future. Merlin teaches Arthur how to be a good king by changing him into different kinds of creatures to teach him lessons about life. There’s a magical sword that’s been stabbed into a stone, along with a prophecy that whoever can pull the sword from the stone will be King of England. Once Arthur is old enough to be a squire, somehow he ends up pulling the sword from the stone. There begins his trials as new king trying to unite the lesser kingdoms under one rule. He creates an order of knights that serve him in order to help unite the kingdoms. One of his trusted knights betrays him. There’s ongoing trouble with another clan. And the book follows through to Arthur’s ultimate demise.

T.H. White's book appealed to me because I had heard the Disney movie The Sword and The Stone was based on it, but obviously the movie was aimed at young children and the book wasn't really. In fact, the book goes well beyond where the Disney flick ends. We get to watch Wart grow into the true king, we meet Guinevere and Lancelot, and the other knights, we meet the hilarious King Pellinore and his life-long chase after the questing beast, "hello, what?" There’s much more Arthurian lore within the pages of this novel. I’d say it falls just after Le Morte de Artur on the list of must-read King Arthur fiction.

Ace and Roc Books recently republished The Once and Future King in a trade paperback Collector's Edition. Their news release says the Broadway production Camelot was based on this book - I didn't know that (I kinda want to see it now). The book club podcast The Sword and Laser read The Once and Future King as one of their club pics recently too. They had much discussion of the book on the podcast and on their Goodreads forums.

I remember The Once and Future King being fun, although definitely not an accurate historical representation of Arthur and his post-Roman life, or even medieval life if placed in that context. The anachronisms don't affect the telling of the story at all. Really, they just add to the character of the book. It was more than just fun though. The book took us into the politics, into the lives of the characters.

Ace and Roc also republished The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle, in a tpb Collector's Edition. The Last Unicorn is about a unicorn fearing she's the last of her kind and sets out to learn the truth. Helping her on her quest are a magician, a traveler, and an evil king. I've never read that, but I've heard it's good, and I should hunt down a copy and give it a read.

I was a fan of collecting books when I was in high-school and college. I had shelves filled with hard backs and paperbacks, and a few very special trade paperbacks. If you're a fan of special collector's editions, or need to replace the aged, worn out, well-read copies you already own, look these up. If I had room in my tiny house, I would!

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