63 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece from an undeniable master craftsman
The telling of this story was an epic undertaking for T.H.White, who adapted it from Mallory's Morte d'Arthur. The first book, The Sword in the Stone, is rather protracted and the fact that most will be familiar with the plot tends to put off many who would read it. However, the four remaining books are a revelation; White's glorious and rich narrative paints a vivid...
Published on 19 July 2001
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This is NOT the "as originally conceived" version
This edition includes the final (5th) book, The Book of Merlyn, but the version of The Sword in the Stone is not the original version (which is can be bought separately).
When the Book of Merlyn was originally chopped out of the Once and Future King, some of its stories were put into the Sword in the Stone, along with other changes damaging to the book.
Published on 4 Nov 2005 by JimBob
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63 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece from an undeniable master craftsman,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Once and Future King (Voyager Classics) (Paperback)
The telling of this story was an epic undertaking for T.H.White, who adapted it from Mallory's Morte d'Arthur. The first book, The Sword in the Stone, is rather protracted and the fact that most will be familiar with the plot tends to put off many who would read it. However, the four remaining books are a revelation; White's glorious and rich narrative paints a vivid picture of twelth century adventure, chivalry, treachery, despair and ultimately, tragedy. This is an absolute must read, for it is of a style that one rarely encounters today, written by a literary genius and exceptionally intelligent man. White is over-looked to a great extent in modern literature. Read this book and wonder why.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is story-telling,
Bored with the novels we had to study for A levels, I wandered into our school library one lunch time and picked a book at random to read. It was The Once and Future King, and I'd never heard of it. I was entranced from the first page, I think because it had its own distinctive spirit; not quite like any literary style or trend. Whatever, forty-two years later, it remains my favourite book of all time. White pulls off a very difficult feat for an author: to tell a classic tale in a personal way. For there's no doubt much of the views and passion expressed through the characters belong to White. Yet it works, I think because much of his essential soul matched the subject matter. This was no case of an author finding something he believed could sell, or which would make him a literary name (although I suppose White might have wanted those things too); this was an author strongly driven to tell his tale. I don't think it's any accident that so many films have been based on this book; what White adds to Malory's structure are characters we care about.
The book is not actually that long for the huge scope of life it covers. If this was a modern fantasy, it would probably be stretched out at least three times the length. Also, the four books are very different, matching the period in Arthur's life they cover. So, we have the child-like wonder underpinning The Sword in the Stone, through to the utter, adult tragedy of The Candle in the Wind. It's not without faults but somehow these add to its charm; they're part of White's passion, sometimes unchecked, and that's no bad thing when the story-telling is so brilliant.
50 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A strong link in the chain,
One commentator once said, 'T.H. White has a genius for recreating the physical conditions of the past; the child who reads him will learn far more than all the historians and archaeologists could tell of what England was like in the Middle Ages.' This tale, 'The Once and Future King', is a classic of English literature, crossing the ages to be a tale both of modern times in the language and treatment of characters as well as the misty, mystical past with its subject matter.
Like many classics, this book inspired both great love and great irritation. It is a classic retelling of the Arthurian legends - White does not add to the legends with his own additions, but rather sticks closely to manuscripts and stories that have gone before, most notably Thomas Mallory's 'Le Morte d'Arthur', also considered a classic. The book is divided into four major sections: 'The Sword in the Stone', 'The Queen of Air and Darkness', 'The Ill-Made Knight', and 'The Candle in the Wind'. The overall tone of Arthur's legend goes from hopefulness to tragedy, as even the final conflicts become unresolved, hence the idea that Arthur will come again.
The title of this work comes from the supposed inscription on Arthur's tomb: HIC IACET ARTORIVS REX QVONDAM REXQVE FVTVRVS. The sweep goes from Arthur's childhood to the final battle with his son Mordred. Like many works, this is both a piece of entertainment as well as a political commentary (think 'The Wizard of Oz' here) - Mordred's thrashers are Nazi stormtroopers, for example. This book was the product of the time just before World War II. Merlin's preaching of just war theory (the only acceptable reason for going to war is to prevent another war) is apropos of the time. The Round Table has definite tones of internationalism (from the failed League of Nations to the soon-to-be-born United Nations), and the concept of Might FOR Right (rather than might makes right) is embodied in the idealism of the Round Table fellowship. The rule of law over the rule of men is exemplified in Arthur's struggle against Lancelot and Guinevere. Merlyn also, because of the benefit of his hindsight being actually foresight (he lives backwards through time), continues to make allusions to things such as tanks, modern technology, and even to Adolf Hitler (albeit obliquely).
The tale gets progressively darker as the story continues - the seduction of Arthur by his half-sister will have major consequences later; Lancelot's seduction of Guinevere and her infidelity sow the seeds of the downfall of the Round Table Fellowship, and the final of the four sections is relentlessly bleak.
Still, this is a classic retelling of a classic tale, which continues to be revitalised in media, books, and popular imagination. Whereas some of White's contemporaries chose to create new worlds (think of Tolkien and 'The Lord of the Rings' here), White chose to revisit an old tale that has roots in the legends of the land directly and recast them for modern audiences. As the tales of Arthur continue to have life into the future (he really will be, in a sense, a future king), White's book will stand as a strong link in the chain of storytelling that has maintained this tale for over a thousand years.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Arthur for grown-ups,
To call this book a children's fantasy is to do it a huge injustice. I am 54, I have been a lifelong reader of the Arthurian legends,and studied it as a special subject at the University of Glasgow.
I have just finished reading The Once and Future King, and can say hand on heart that I am glad that I didn't try to read it when I was younger. It's a challenging read, but extremely rewarding. I laughed out loud on a number of occasions, not least when certain knights returning from their Grail quest made references to Galahad as an insufferable prig that had simply never occurred to me before. I always took the notion that he was some kind of angelic virgin for granted, without thinking about how that would make him something other than human.
And that's the thing with this book. It makes the characters human. TH White puts flesh on the familiar bones in a way that will never leave me. I had never before thought of Lancelot and Guinevere's affair lasting decades. The description of how Lancelot took on 14 knights when discovered in Guinevere's bedroom, and trounced them, despite starting off armed only with his dressing gown would sit well in any top modern action adventure. And the line that he would have killed them all, not just 13 of them, but for the one that ran away, is highly reminiscent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, suggesting that the behaviour of Brave Sir Robin, who ran away, has its roots in the description of Mordred's bravery in the face of a resurgent Lancelot.
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mixed bag but worth its weight in wisdom,
This isn't an easy read, for those seeking quick access to Disney-esque Arthurian realms of magic and heroism. However, if you stick with it you shall find a far deeper magic and heroism. This work rewards those who persevere.
It is the classic that gave us the eccentric druid Merlyn and his teachings through animals. It is also a famous anti-war treatise, searching for answers to this strange activity that this realistic Arthur was faced with. It is also a book steeped in knowledge of old England, with its traditions, lore or lingo.....The book really starts soaring when we encounter the sympathetic figure of Lancelot, and the book now and again showers us in sudden riches of wisdom and insight into these 3-dimensional characters, and thus the character of man.
T H White is no average author; he was for awhile a gamekeeper, living alone like Merlyn in the countryside. He writes suddenly, quirkily, untidily.....but if you stick with him you find a book more memorable and worth revisiting than possibly any other Arthurian epic written. The Book of Merlyn is indeed the last part, and it is perhaps the trickiest.....Good Luck!
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books ever,
By A Customer
After reading Lord of the Rings I didn't think that ther would be another book to come close. With hindsight I think that TOAFK is probably better. This book is so packed with morals and brilliant adventures that once it sits on your shelf after you have read it, you'll have to leave all your bookmarks inside it just so you can delve into it whenever you need inspiration.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best book,
This quite simply is my favourite book in the world. It sucked me in right from the start and never let me go until the end. The story is written with pace, grandeur and is so beautifully majestic and legendary that one cannot help but adore it. Holden Caulfield said in 'The Catcher in the Rye' that a good book was one that makes you want to know the author personally, and this book certainly does that. I have now taken to giving copies of this book as gifts, as I cannot imagine a better present- receiving a huge pack of adventures, morals, meditations on life and mankind- this book has it all all all.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All-time favourite,
The story of Arthur and his knights has been told and re-told countless times but this is not only one of the very best versions, it also transcends the Arthurian legend to become an incredibly insightful and moving account of the growth of a boy into a man, and the decline of that man into a disillusioned person. It ranges across all human emotions, from happiness and joy to despondency and depression. Particularly at the end there are some of the most moving scenes I've ever read, when Arthur realizes that all he has fought for his entire life is in ruins, and Merlin tries to persuade him that maybe not all is lost. Over 800 pages of sheer beauty, what's keeping you?
68 of 75 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Part delightful, part extraordinary, but not for everyone,
You may have met the Sword in the Stone either as the Disney animation (which I confess I have never managed to sit through) or as a standalone book for children - which is how I first encountered it.
The Sword in the Stone, it turns out, is just the first part of T H White's retelling of parts of the Arthur cycle. But it is very, very unlike the parts that follow, and it's probably worth considering them separately, even though they appear under one cover.
The Sword in the Stone, then, is a rumbustiously delightful re-envisioning of Arthur's youth as a second class child in the home of Sir Ector and his son Kay. There are two things which make this book delightful. The first is the character writing, which is witty and insightful. This is something that runs through the entire sequence of books. The second is the rampant imaginative disregard for any kind of historicity. This book is a firework display of deliberate anachronisms. The famous set pieces, including the magician's duel, crop up frequently in comprehension pieces in schools. TH White has no compunction in putting Robin Hood in with the mix, even though five centuries or so separated the purported dates of Arthur and Robin.
Before you imagine this to be a flaw, think again. The nature of the Arthurian cycle, whether in Chretien de Troyes, Geoffrey of Monmouth, the anonymous middle-english ballads, or Mallory's late sometimes tedious, sometimes brilliant retelling, is that they mix things from all over the place. Almost none of the adventures attributed to Arthur could have taken place in the time of the war-leader that the historian Nennius describes - even if they were possible anyway. So T H White has in many ways captured the excitement of storytelling which characterises the Arthur cycle far more accurately than any of the attempts to place Arthur in a historical context.
So, instead of a tedious historicity, T H White lets rip and we have a book which sparkles on every page with detail and adventure.
What then, about the books that follow? First, these are really for an older audience. They are much darker, and become steadily more dark as they progress. White's brilliance of imagination is still there, but it is subdued behind a deeper purpose. It is very hard to knit together the Arthur cycle into anything which seems like coherence. Roger Lancelyn Green achieves it in his 'King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table', but, in doing so he never achieves the psychological immediacy that White offers us. So, T H White offers us a portrait of the Arthurian cycle which is based in the psychology of the characters - and especially in the way in which Arthur's enemies used his trusting, open-hearted nature against him with increasing effectiveness as the story moves on.
From my perspective, the only way to enjoy the entire sequence is to read the first book with an eye to understanding Arthur (Wart). From here, the books flow naturally onwards, opening up a dark, disturbing, but also satisfying and rewarding reworking of the cycle.
A must for Arthurophiles, but people coming from the Disney film may well find the first book enjoyable and the rest of the sequence discouraging.
Warmly recommended, nonetheless.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic,
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This review is from: The Once and Future King (Kindle Edition)
Unless you have read this profound and wonderous version of the Arthurian Legend, you may never really understand what magic is, or what it means. The every day magic that surrounds us or the magic of human experience. The inherent highs and lows or dangers of love and living. I loved it when I first read it aged 16. I loved it on second, third and fourth readings in subsequent decades and again now in my late fifties but the doomynesss also begins to become ever more piquant as I enter my later years. It is a very big book and probably the one along with "Catch 22" that I will ever use as a standard of great writing!
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The Once and Future King (Voyager Classics) by T. H. White (Hardcover - 28 Mar 2013)