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on 18 October 2014
T.H. WHite is a brilliant writer and this series is a must read for anyone. There are those who are dismissive of 'fiction', feeling like they're not getting anything from it and they are better of reading history, science, politics. My view has always been that social science, politics, emotional scope etc are best conveyed by a good writer of fiction. Wikipedia says it well; "The central theme is an exploration of human nature regarding power and justice, as the boy Arthur becomes king and attempts to quell the prevalent "might makes right" attitude with his idea of chivalry. But in the end, even chivalry comes undone since its justice is maintained by force." Watching the first of the 'new' Batman films reminded me so much of these books (and real life in terms of the social implications). How a true hero/ leader who stands for 'good' must sacrifice and may not be understood whilst he does right, how there will always be people looking to bring them down, the responsibility on their shoulders and the sacrifice of their personal lives to be held up as a beacon of their beliefs, and how a 'hero' ultimately stands alone, regardless of those who love them. The eternal paradox of how to bring about what is right and good without employing the same tactics as 'the baddies'...
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on 19 September 2013
I first read this back in the late 60s, after seeing the film 'Camelot', based on this book. T. H. White's interpretation is ingenious, with its sometimes surprising references to 20th Century science, which sets it apart from the Tennyson and Malory versions. It's alternately amusing, tragic, light and dark: a glimpse of a boy, tutored by Merlin, who becomes a just king. Betrayal of Arthur by his beloved wife and his friend, exploited and turned against him by evil elements within the Round Table, tests his principles to the extreme. Ultimately the dream of Camelot dies with him, but a powerful message of hope shines through: that one day Arthur will return and a kingdom, where 'right is might' will be restored.

For me, the book is wonderful, but it's a shame this Kindle edition was not more accurately proof-read. Far too many hyphens that can, at times, compromise the poetry of the text.
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on 21 April 2017
there's a reason magneto was reading this in xmen! a story about how you always need an element of force when ruling a nation
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on 1 March 2015
Nice version of King arthur and the round table
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on 21 June 2016
This is an odd book, and there is something oddly uneven in the writing. The first part describing the childhood of Arthur is a children’s story. Anyone who grew up reading Roger Llancelyn Green’s wonderful retelling of Malory will appreciate King Pellinore who spends his time clanking in his armour aimlessly through the forest after the Questing Beast, or the ritual exchange of challenges which leads up to an entirely unnecessary joust between two knights “I pray thee, sir, tell my thy name etc.”

In the following books however, we move on to more adult themes: unrequited love, adultery, even incest. The most outstanding feature of the book for me was the love triangle between Arthur, Guenever and Lancelot, handled with extraordinary depth and compassion in all its misery, messiness and intermittent joy. This paragraph sums it up:

“Arthur, whose head was still in his hands, raised his eyes. He saw that his friend and his wife were looking at each other with the wide pupils of madness, so he quickly attended to his plate.”

The odd thing is that even while he is writing about these extremely adult topics, the author somehow still manages to give the impression that he is writing for children.

The author has obviously read and reread Malory, and displays an impressively erudite knowledge of mediaeval pursuits such as jousting, hunting and falconry, while occasionally throwing in deliberate anachronisms such as King Pellinore’s glasses underneath his helmet. It is not clear exactly when the tale is supposed to be set, and from time to time he muddies the waters by throwing in an actual historical name or date. My impression is that the book opens in the simplicity of the 12th century, moves through the idealized chivalry of the 13th and 14th centuries, but as the decades pass, Arthur’s court loses the innocence and fellowship of the early days until it reaches the luxury and extravagant fashions of the 15th century with the gentlemen of the court dressed in parti-coloured hose and long shoes chained to the knee, while the ladies wear towering headdresses and sleeves to the ground. The author himself remains firmly outside the text, frequently comparing attitudes and events with the way things are done in the 20th century.

In short, this is a book that manages to be simultaneously childish and adult, painstakingly researched and wildly anachronistic. The only possible approach is to ignore the inconsequentialities and accept it on its own terms. One must also be prepared to overlook various old-fogeyish type remarks about love and marriage in the Good Old Days as opposed to the flighty attitudes of modern times, besides an idyllic picture of contented serfs frolicking beneath the benevolent eye of a kindly master. As for the author’s occasional excursions into the realm of political ideologies (not to mention his comments on the over-excitable Gael), the less said about those, the better.

This is a flawed book which is inconsistent, maddening, boring at times (don’t be put off by several lengthy disquisitions at the beginning of Book 2, whose relevance only becomes clear later on, so eventually I wanted to go back and re-read them), which just as it’s approaching the climax wanders off onto a hundred-page digression which totally destroys the dramatic tension, and which most readers will no doubt skip in order to get to the final scene. But it also moving, thought-provoking, epic, overwhelming and magnificent. If it doesn’t always deserve five stars, it gets them all the same.
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I think this is a magnificent book. It is involving, gripping, learned, wise and humane and is written in lovely, clear readable prose. I have loved it for decades now and return to it every so often with undiminished pleasure.

It is, of course, a retelling of the Arthurian legend but with a focus on the humanity of the characters involved as well as their high, heroic deeds and purpose. White's portrayal of Arthur's growing-up in The Sword In The Stone is a genuine masterpiece of English literature, I think, even if it was later trivialised by Disney. There is genuine erudition, insight and wit here in abundance, with a fine view of humanity and its variety, its nobility and its failings. This continues into the remaining books where White's portraits of Arthur and Lancelot in particular are simply wonderful, but his superb evocation of dozens of other characters make this a full, rich book.

White sticks pretty closely to Malory, for whom he has a deep respect, but he renders the tales and characters wonderfully real and accessible. Parts of the book make me laugh out loud while others, like the paragraph in The Ill-Made Knight which begins "Lancelot came back out of a rainstorm, wet and small," move me profoundly. His understanding of and compassion for his characters is remarkable. For example, in the scene where Lancelot heals the wounds of Sir Urre, White quotes Malory's magnificent sentence, "And ever Sir Lancelot wept, as he had been a child that had been beaten," but also makes the beautifully profound observation that "This lonely and motionless figure knew a secret that was hidden from the others. The miracle was that he had been allowed to perform a miracle."

I have to say that although the first four books here are all masterpieces in my view, The Book Of Merlyn was written significantly later when White's powers had faded somewhat, and isn't very good. Nevertheless, as a whole volume this contains some absolutely superb writing and truly great literature and storytelling. If you haven't read it yet, a treat awaits. Very, very warmly recommended.
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on 8 November 2012
I purchased this version for my Kindle simply because my paperback version, having read it at least three times is now in tatters. It is one of my favourite books of all time. It consists of five separate parts, each standing alone and inspired by Mallory's "Le Morte de Arthur. The first book, The Sword in the Stone, I read as a child and it is essentially a children's book. Do not be discouraged by this as an adult as it is a beautiful story relating how Arthur came to claim the English throne and forms the precursor to the other four books. (I was delighted that the fifth book, The Book of Merlin appears in this version as it was not in my original copy but printed separately.)

The books form a mixture of fantasy, romance and a touch of gritty reality. Towards the end Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot are depicted as mature people in their later years and not as those who are youthful in perpetuity as in other versions of the Arthurian legend. The book is a powerful mixture of both magic and Christianity, the wizard Merlin being a major character. For me the Search for the Holy Grail, as it assimilates both fantasy and religion is one of it's most powerful features.

It is well written and in it's style some might say that there are similarities to Lord of the Rings. I think that it has been a much underrated book. Definitely in my Top Ten books.
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on 14 July 2011
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.
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on 24 January 2016
Overall, I really enjoyed this mountain of a novel. The edition I have is the collector's edition, so has five novels (it includes The Book of Merlyn) in it rather than the normal four (The Sword in the Stone, The Witch in the Wood, The Ill-Made Knight and The Candle in the Wind). As well as being a beautiful book - I mean, look at that cover! - it's also a very entertaining read. I absolutely love T.H. White's writing style, and it fit very well with the stories being told. The characters in this are super eccentric, Merlyn is hilarious, I just fell in love with Arthur. Pellinore, where do I even start with my love for King Pellinore?

I think you definitely have to be in the mood to read this to fully enjoy it. There's a lot going on, and it's kind of hard to review as a collective because the stories take place over different periods of Arthur's life/reign and the main points of view bounce between a couple of characters. It's one of those books you have to be invested in otherwise you might find, halfway through, that you have no idea of what's going on. Definitely worth dedicating yourself to, though, because the story is a good one and it's so much fun to read!
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on 20 December 2012
I've read this book in different editions in the past and it is a fantastic book, one of my faves of all time, but I am part way into The Sword in the Stone,and am finding the poor proof-reading very annoying. Words are transposed such as 'lurky' for 'lucky', words such as 'not' are left out in a way that affects the way the story is understood, etc etc. I'm not usually a particularly pedantic person and can let the odd one go but have resorted now to using a pencil to correct things because I want my husband to read it next and don't want him to get confused and not enjoy a book I love so much!

If one sets out to reprint such a wonderful book, surely one should take the time and care required to make sure it is not so full of mistakes?
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