Showing posts with label Mythology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mythology. Show all posts

The Once and Future King by T.H. White

The Once and Future King by T.H. White (All Editions #1 - #4)


4.08  ·  Rating details ·  83,753 Ratings  ·  3,235 Reviews
The Once and Future King by T.H. White download or read it online for free here
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
Once upon a time, a young boy called “Wart” was tutored by a magician named Merlyn in preparation for a future he couldn’t possibly imagine. A future in which he would ally himself with the greatest knights, love a legendary queen and unite a country dedicated to chivalrous values. A future that would see him crowned and known for all time as Arthur, King of the Britons.

During Arthur’s reign, the kingdom of Camelot was founded to cast enlightenment on the Dark Ages, while the knights of the Round Table embarked on many a noble quest. But Merlyn foresaw the treachery that awaited his liege: the forbidden love between Queen Guinevere and Lancelot, the wicked plots of Arthur’s half-sister Morgause, and the hatred she fostered in Mordred that would bring an end to the king’s dreams for Britain--and to the king himself.

“The bravest people are the ones who don’t mind looking like cowards.”

“The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

“She hardly ever thought of him. He had worn a place for himself in some corner of her heart, as a sea shell, always boring against the rock, might do. The making of the place had been her pain. But now the shell was safely in the rock. It was lodged, and ground no longer.”

“We cannot build the future by avenging the past.”





Reviews


This book terrified me, on many levels. It's 667 pages long, to begin with. It's been a while since I read a serious chunkster like that (besides Harry Potter, which somehow in my mind doesn't really count...).

Besides that, I am just not a fan of "Authur" stories, despite my deep love of the Disney movie The Sword and the Stone, of course. Ever since I saw the musical "Camelot" in the theater when I was in high school, the story just didn't appeal to me. Then my book club chose this as our monthly selection and I finally decided it was time to tackle this monster.

Was it worth reading? Absolutely. This book is so much more than just Arthur and Camelot. The first section of the book is essentially the Disney movie, and that part does grab you and you love Wart so much that you keep reading just to find out how it ends for him (although, it got harder and harder to keep reading for a while there, in the middle - it got a bit slow).

White, our beloved author, is a genius, really. He's like your friend or fellow book club member, who just happened to be there, in the middle ages, and he's telling you the story with his own language and always using references to modern day concerns and people. He sometimes appears to mock them and their ways (oh, especially those blundering old knights...), other times he pities them, but mostly, I felt as though he was trying to understand them and why they made the choices they did.

The book is, to me, chiefly three different things.

First, it is a the "historical" study of England at the time, which is interesting and confusing at the same time, with many Lords and Kings and battles etc. Obviously this is a fantasy book and it's based on legend, but either way, we read a lot of political and historical stuff.

Second, much of the book is devoted to a character study of Arthur and Guinevere and Lancelot. Arthur, the imperfect, naive, thoughtful and above all, forgiving king. Guinevere, the stubborn and difficult to understand queen/mistress - White often just tells us straight out that he doesn't know why she made the choices she did. And Lancelot - the ill-made knight, the self-loathing hero of the round table who made a lot of mistakes and yet always tried his best to be moral (except where Guinevere was concerned, of course).

Thirdly, I felt like this was a very moral and philosophical book. White asks difficult questions, usually through Arthur, trying to figure out questions like: Is man inherently good? Why do we have wars and what causes them? Which do we owe more loyalty to, our family (clan) or our country? Is it better to get revenge or to forgive? How do we best create peace: through worship, through wars or through civil justice?

This book is truly a work of art. I must admit however, that as soon as the "Sword in the Stone" section of the book is over, the story was completely depressing, in every way imaginable. Nearly everyone is either deceived, deceitful, or unhappy. Bad things are constantly happening to good people and even the good people seem to be constantly making bad choices. I must also admit that it was still insanely interesting and worthwhile - and, even amid the depressing things, I found myself laughing out loud. Often I found myself pondering the idea of actions and consequences and how often our actions can lead to things in our future that we never could've imagined. My heart ached for Arthur, for what he had and for what he lost.

But, you should read it. Read it for Arthur and Sir Pellinore and for White's use of the word "chuckle-head." I'd be surprised if you regret it.
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Seriously, how do you review the pinnacle of all fantasy? 
You can argue with me, but that, in my opinion, is what The Once and Future King is. Sure, the evil enchantresses are stout and grumpy, the magical castles are made out of food, the lily maids are fat and of a certain age, and the knights in shining armor refer to one another as ‘old chap’s. Oh and did I mention that King Arthur’s nickname is ‘the Wart’?
Somehow, T.H. White takes the legend, undresses it, and gives it a new kind of dignity. Fantastical happenstance takes secondary place to human emotions and actions, noble, selfish, and ridiculous. And the narrator himself always lurks somewhere, hastening to explain himself when it seems necessary, or simply describe the king of the fishes as ‘rather American looking, like Uncle Sam.’. To some the novel- subdivided into four books- may seem big and slow-moving. But it is not a book to read in a day; nor should it be, since it concerns entire lives, whole worlds, both real and imaginary. The characters are spared no description; we know them better than we ever could have before. This is fiction at its finest.
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In case anyone is wondering: I picked this book up for a re-read because of one throwaway line in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal . I haven't read this since high school, but I remember loving it almost giddily as a tween.

Since it's a big monster of a book, I took a steak knife to it, as I often do, and cut it in half so I could carry it about and read it on the subway without breaking my back. Here's the new cover I put on my DIY'd "vol 2," from Vice magazine.
Anyway, I have been reading this for days and days and days and days and days—exactly a month, it turns out (thanks for keeping track, Goodreads!), which is about four times longer than it takes me to read most books. I'm not at all sorry to have spent so long with it, as this book encompasses multitudes, and was just consistently enthralling the whole time. I remembered it only sketchily from high school, mostly only the first book, much of which is retold in the Disney movie The Sword in the Stone: Arthur as a boy being turned into a fish and a bird, scampering about learning lessons from comical genius klutz Merlin, who is always knitting his beard into his scarf.

All that is, of course, still there, still fun and silly and charming and delightful. But, like all good epics do, what starts as a somewhat childish fantasy story grows up as its characters do, maturing in deed and thought and even language, so that by the end it is more philosophy than slapstick, more high art and the endless search for meaning than antics and adventures. The difference between right and wrong, the search for God, love and its lapses and failures, why men fight wars, how the sins of the father are visited tenfold on the son, the impossibility of absolute justice, the very meaning of life—all these are dissected, mulled over, worked around and through over these 700 pages. Additionally, throughout, there are the most fascinating digressions: on falconry, on the food and fashion of the day, on the political landscape of the British Isles through history, on many different sorts of weapons and their uses, on all the various accessories that make up a knight's attire, on needlepoint and castle architecture and the effects of weather patterns on different birds.

And of course, over it all runs the arching taut string of the foregone conclusion: everyone knows that this story is ultimately a tragedy, that no matter how carefree young Arthur frolics as a servant-turned-fish, he will still pull the sword from the stone to be revealed as King of England, he will still marry the beautiful Guenever who will have a decades-long affair with his best friend Lancelot, he will still be seduced by his half-sister to sire the bastard who will wind up being the agent of not just Arthur's own demise, but the disintegration of the entire Round Table and all those lofty goals of chivalry and valor.

So even at its sweetest, this is a bitter tale, a beautiful awful devastation, an incredible encapsulation of human failure despite all the most noble of intentions. It's wonderful and terrible and crushing and glorious.

What a spectacular world to spend a month thrashing about in.
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“They made me see that the world was beautiful if you were beautiful, and that you couldn't get unless you gave. And you had to give without wanting to get.”
― T.H. White, The Once and Future King
I loved it and my two brats (11 & 13) absolutely enjoyed it, even if many of the jokes, the funky anachronistic blending of the Medieval with the Modern, might have floated a bit over their tiny wee heads.

Anyway, I think White perfectly captured the magic, power, fears and the joy of both youth and myth with this retelling of early Arthurian legend. White's theme of power and justice ("Might Makes Right") seem to perfectly capture the political Zeitgiest of now. Perhaps, White like Merlin was just writing through time backwards and wanted to capture the queer contradictions of Imperial Democracy in the global 21st century, but wanted to write it in the 1930s so Disney would be around to animate it (ugh) in the 60s and thus make his point resonate better in the early 21st century.

You might think a novel that basically focuses on a love-triangle (a quadrilateral if you include God), several affairs, a man's struggle between his love for a woman, love for God, love for his best friend, would not hold the interest of a 13 and an 11-year old for long, but this is T.H. White. The characters are so human, so filled with frailties, heroics, and insecurities that White could have written about cooking for 300 pages and my kids would have been rapt from page 1 to the end.

The story turns, about half-way through, solidly to Lancelot. It is impossible to understand Lancelot without looking at Arthur, Guinevere, Elaine & Galahad. And White digresses throughout TO&FK to capture these stories. The middle of the book pivots as Camelot, under Arthur's leadership, undergoes a change from physical quests (Round Table v. Might makes Right) to spiritual ones (Round Table > Grail quest). This change captures/mirrors the dynamic of Lancelot's own story (the vacillation between the physical and spiritual).

Finally, the weight of the conspiracies, the betrayals, the killings, and the expulsions are all there pushing against the King (I love when T.H. White calls Arthur - England) and his faith in man and justice. It just isn't to be. Do I need to hide the ending? Am I going to spoil the book for you? Come now, we are all mostly adults here. Camelot fails, but T.H. White explores the failure almost as beautifully as he does the magic of Camelot. He captures the magic of Camelot by focusing on the humanity of the people. He isn't satisfied with making (or keeping rather) Lancelot, King A, Guinevere, and even Mordred locked up in the stale symbols they often become. The trite shadows of type is not T.H. White's jam. He wants to humanize everybody. He wants to show the motives, the nuances of character that makes the reader LOVE these figures not because they symbolize things like bravery, chivalry, or justice ... but because they remind the reader of elements, times, moods and flaws found buried within. T.H. White started with a fantasy novel, but ended with an exploration of war, humanity, love, and hope.

Look, I'm skeptical of fantasy novels. They aren't my thing. I want literature. I want something that pushes you against the wall of your own head and dares you to think bigger. I think T.H. White was aiming for that -- and holy anachronisms - he nailed it.
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I carried a quote from this book around in my purse for decades. In my original version of the book, it is on page 111 and begins, "The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. 
You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then - to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn."

Another quote reads: "You see, one gets confused with Time, when it is like that. All one's tenses get muddled, for one thing. If you know what is going to happen to people, and not what has happened to them, it makes it difficult to prevent it happening, if you don't want it to have happened, if you see what I mean? Like drawing in a mirror."

T.H. White has an imagination large enough to stimulate the reader regardless how many times this book is read.
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A complex and multi-tiered depiction of the epic Arthurian legend. This book is unlike any other I've read either focusing on the myth or simply in terms of fantasy writing.

While the story begins with The Sword in the Stone, a novel I had already read years ago it was refreshing to re-familiarize myself with T.H. White's eccentric and unique style of portraying the character of King Arthur as a child. In fact I believe The Sword in the Stone is the deepest depiction of the childhood Arthur I have read as many other stories gloss over this. Yet it is important to understand Arthur's beginnings in order to understand his growth of character and this firstly sets T.H.White's work apart from the other tales about Arthur.

White's use of humor and his linking of the myth to the present was incredibly clever. He was in part able to both tell the tale and provide a join critique and analysis of the legend. And such a deep analysis was able to be therefore used to reflect upon the human condition, upon human beings, their wants and desires and what it is that drives them to do such acts as Guenevere in being unfaithful to Arthur. Or as Mordred desiring her as his own. It is a more effective analysis than Freud's simple conclusion that men are simple carnal beings I feel, for what it showed me is that White recognizes that yes few men are truly good but at the same time few men are truly base. It is the way they react to the events of life that makes them ignoble or even noble.

It was an incredibly deep book with so many angles that it simply astounded me. Was it a fantasy, a fairytale to enjoy with magic and well constructed characters? Was it a commentary? Was it a critique? Was it for children or for adults? Was it an analysis? Was it a collection of psychological observations? I believe that this book was all of these and yet none at the same time. It is a book that derives aspects from all of these and yet is never truly one of these alone. For here T.H.White has created a grand epic that I recommend all people read.

However, for all of its depth and magnificence I felt it was let down at times, particularly right near the end. This was majorly due to its pacing. At times it was fast and furious and at others it was slow and ponderous. It never truly was consistent. And for me this made it difficult to get into at times. I would recommend Roger Lancelyn Green's tales of Arthur instead for their pace. However T.H.White's work has a greater depth than any other Arthurian tale I have read and it is for that it is to be admired.
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I read this book about every two years. It is one of my absolute favorites. The stories and the characters are so well-crafted that I can read it over-and-over time and again with just as much pleasure as the first time.
This novel is actually divided into four 'books' within itself, and while you can read the four books out of order, it really is meant to be read from front to back.
The first book, "The Sword In The Stone", is much like the Disney animated movie that was adapted from it. There are a few scenes in the movie which are not in the book, and quite a bit in the book which is not in the movie, but the overall flavor is the same, and the essence of the story is there. The main thing lacking from the movie, which is quite important in the novel, is that Merlin is teaching Arthur (Wart) about the ways of humanity, civilization, and society, so that when he becomes the King he will not just continue with things as they have been, but learn to reason and think for himself, to try his best to make the world a better place. These lessons are referred to again and again later in the novel. This first book has far more magic and fairy-tale qualities than any of the rest of the book.
The second book is called "The Queen of Air and Darkness", and primarily has to do with Arthur's nephews from his half-sister, Morgause, and ends with Morgause, not knowing that Arthur is her half-brother, bewitching him and seducing him to give her a child. This child, Mordred, is the essence of fate of Arthur and what makes this novel such a tragedy. White reveals this information as well, and knowing it here does not spoil the remainder of the book in anyway. This second book is one of the shortest of the four.
The third book is easily my favorite and is called "The Ill-Made Knight". It is the story of Sir Lancelot. This portion of the novel (and many smaller pieces of it) are where a great many Hollywood movies pull their King Arthur and Lancelot material from, only they usually get it all wrong. Lancelot, in this book, is the greatest knight in the world, though he is quite ugly - not the sexy and charming knight as is always portrayed in the movies. His face is often compared to a gargoyle. I believe this is quite important. It helps the reader to better understand his relationship with Queen Guenevere ("Jenny") and to understand that the Queen does not have this lifelong affair with her husband's best friend simply because he is charming and handsome and the best knight in the world. The character of Lancelot (as are Arthur and Guenevere) is so richly charactered. His struggles with his faith and humanity, and how those play against his love for his best friend's wife, are his lifelong struggles. Lancelot is shown to be an honest person, of the truest sense, even though he lives this lifelong struggle of adultery with his best friend's wife. The love triangle between Lancelot, Guenevere, and Arthur (and Qudrangle with God, as White often represents it) is the heart of this book, though the book really focuses on Lancelot's internal struggles. This book also serves to explore Arthur's attempts at removing the "Might Is Right" mentality of the Middle Ages, and gives us the Quest for the Holy Grail stories. This book, along with the first book, represents the bulk of this novel's content.
The last book, "A Candle In The Wind", brings together all the elements of Arthur's tragedy. The irony in this book is how Arthur's own new system of "justice" is used against him bring to light (publicly) the affair between Lancelot and Guenever.
This novel is a wonderful exploration of humanity, society, and civilization, and a beautiful fairy tale tragedy.
Source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43545.The_Once_and_Future_King, www.ebookstoreal.blogspot.com