HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Once and Future King
Author: T. H. White
Publisher: Ace Books, reprinted 1987
Related website(s): http://www.penguin.com (publisher)
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Mature teens and adults
Rating: *** 3 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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White,T. H. The Once and Future King (Published in 1965 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons; republished in 1966 by Ace Books, an imprint of The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of the Penguin Group USA Inc., 375 Hudson St., New York City, NY 10014). This is T. H. White’s modern retelling of the saga of King Arthur based upon the 1485 book Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Malory. It collects and revises shorter novels published from 1938 to 1940, with much new material. The book is divided into four parts. The Sword in the Stone was written in 1938. White wrote three more books, The Queen of Air and Darkness (1939), The Ill-Made Knight (1940), and The Candle in the Wind (1958), which he collected as The Once and Future King, and then later added The Sword in the Stone in the composite edition. Though Arthur, if he existed at all, would have ruled some time around the 6th century, the book is set around the 14th century (and Arthur is portrayed as an Anglo-Norman rather than a Briton), and the actual monarchs of that period are referred to as “mythical.”
“The Sword in the Stone,” detailing the youth of Arthur, called “Wart,” chronicles Arthur’s upbringing by his foster father Sir Ector and his initial training by the wizard Merlyn. In “The Queen of Air and Darkness,” White sets the stage for Arthur’s demise by introducing Arthur’s seduction by his half-sister Queen Morgause. The third part, “The Ill-Made Knight,” de nd Queen Guinevere’s forbidden love. “The Candle in the Wind” unites these narrative threads by telling how Mordred’s hatred of his father caused the eventual downfall of Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, and the entire ideal kingdom of Camelot. A final book, called The Book of Merlyn (written 1941, published 1977), was published separately following White’s death. It chronicles Arthur’s final lessons from Merlyn before his death.
A lot of people think of “The Sword in the Stone” as a children’s story because Disney made a children’s animated film of it, but like the rest of the book, it has a liberal sprinkling of bad language. As to whether The Once and Future King is appropriate for children, here are some cautions of which parents might want to be aware. Freudian themes dominate the book, as does gore. The plot turns on sibling rivalry. Arthur commits incest and is finally betrayed by the son of this incest. Then there are Lancelot’s fornication with Elaine, the mother of his son Galahad, and his adultery with Arthur’s wife. And in one scene, Arthur’s sister boils a cat to death in order to cast a spell. Perhaps one of the best things that can be said about the book is that it might be used with older teens and young adults to illustrate the consequences of sin. White described his book as a “tragedy, the Aristotelian and comprehensive tragedy, of sin coming home to roost.”