The Once and Future King by T. H. White

The Once and Future King by T.H. WhiteA few weeks ago I finally finished The Once and Future King by T.H. White. This four part novel is about the Arthurian legend (the first part of the novel is the basis for the Disney movie The Sword in the Stone when Arthur becomes king of England by pulling Excalibur out of a stone) and his knights of the round table. White’s rendition is by no means the first to center on Arthur and all his adventures (here is a list of numerous publications dating back to the 9th century), but he had a pretty interesting take on it and was quite a writer.

The story starts with Arthur as a child and his instruction by the necromancer Merlyn and numerous different animals and ends with Arthur as an old king. Having never read any Arthurian legends, it was pretty interesting and it makes me want to see how others have pitched the story. Really, Arthur leads a fairly tragic life, sometimes because of his own choices, sometimes because of the way things just turn out. He had lofty goals: morality over might was what he strove for. His knights of the round table were set out to conqueror those that thought might was how to advance in the world. He struggled with the nature of war, relationships, and vengeance among other issues that would crop up.

Here are a few quotes that I thought fairly interesting. The first comes after one of the characters kills a defenseless hermit who was trying to protect another defenseless and honorable knight named Bors:

“Killed a defenseless man?”

“I am desperately sorry, King, but it is true. Don’t forget that I was in a frightful rage, and the fellow prevented me from getting at Bors, and I am a plain man of my hands. They were baffling me with a sort of moral weapon, and I used my own weapon against it. I felt that Bors was standing up to me in an unfair way, and that this hermit was helping him. I felt he was setting his will against mine. If he wanted to save the hermit, let him stop being obstinate and get up and fight. If you see what I mean, I felt that the hermit was his business, not mine.”

This next scene comes as Lancelot is explaining how he had wished to be part of the group that were picked to attain the Holy Grail:

“Funny,” said Lancelot, “how the people who can’t pray say that prayers are not answered, however much the people who can pray say they are.

I am still not entirely sure how to respond to that, but there is just something about that that resonates with truth.

This third passage comes during a scene where Lancelot is having to fight for Guenever’s honor:

[I]n those days love was ruled by a different convention to ours. In those days it was chivalrous, adult, long, religious, almost platonic. It was not a matter about which you could make accusations lightly. It was not, as we take it to be nowadays, begun and ended in a long week-end.

I would have to agree to the “old” notion of what love is!

There are numerous other interesting passages, but I think I will leave it at that and let you read it for yourself! The discussions about the nature of war and why people fight is pretty interesting. Check it out!

Categories: Literature
  1. March 23rd, 2007 at 03:33 | #1

    If you enjoyed this rendition of the Arthurian legend two others that you ought to check out are the Camulod Chronicles by Jack Whyte (superb!) and the Pendragon series by Stephen Lawhead. Both attempt to place Arthur in a more likely historical milieu…that of post-Roman Britain. Lawhead’s is the more fantasy-style while Whyte attempts to render legendary feats by more “realistic” telling of the tale.

    I’ve been an Arthurian enthusiast for a long time (almost did a Masters in Celtic literature as a result-came to my senses fortunately) and these are my two favorite tellings of the Arthurian tale.

  2. March 23rd, 2007 at 10:56 | #2

    I can second Lawhead’s books as being a good read. I only read the first two of the Pendragon series, though. I started to read The Once and Future King and I started to read Le Morte d’Arthur and I just can’t get into him. I should put them in my try-again queue.

  3. March 23rd, 2007 at 17:32 | #3

    Thanks for the suggestions, I will definitely have to check them out. Once and Future King has been floating around my family’s libraries for a long time so it seems like a good place to start. More to add to the shelf!!

  4. Franco
    March 28th, 2007 at 03:02 | #4


    I come in peace from BlogExplosion Surfing :-) . Just wanted to drop-in
    and say hi… how do you do :)



  5. March 28th, 2007 at 15:19 | #5

    Hi there, doing well, thanks! Glad you stopped by!

  6. Michelle
    May 2nd, 2008 at 12:56 | #6

    This is one of my favorite books and if you’ve seen X2- the 2nd X-Men movie, it opens with Magneto reading The Once And Future King in his cell. It’s a metaphor for a few reasons; Magneto is imprisoned in a similar fashion to Merlyn and also the actor Ian McKlellan is the same actor that played Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings-also a wizard. Professor X again refers to the book at the end of the movie in the classroom; “Have any of you ever read a book by T.H. White called The Once and Future King?”

  1. August 29th, 2007 at 19:09 | #1

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