I read this book when I was a child (pre-teen, I think) and loved it. Then I grew up and decided I should read more 'grown-up' books, so I bought T. H. White's 'The Once and Future King'. That contains a version of 'The Sword in the Stone', but that version is pitched at adults and the magic is different. Yes, Wart is still turned into animals, but there's no battle with Madam Mim!
For years I promised myself that I'd buy this book. I'm glad I did. It's like meeting an old friend that you haven't seen for years.
If you have a pre-teen/early-teens child who enjoys funny stories about magic, this is a good book to give them. If you're an over-grown kid who likes funny stories about magic, like me, get this book. If you're an adult who wants more 'grown-up' Arthurian stories, get 'The Once and Future King'. They're both good books.
It's a frustrating book, because there are chapters as good as anything in children's literature, like the joust (which made my sides hurt with laughter the first time I read it) and the boar hunt which conveys both the beauty of a deep-winter day and the thrill of the chase. But others are boring and self-indulgent expositions of the author's philosophy, or his personal interest in falconry; I wanted to skip them as a kid and I still want to skip them now. It's like a Dickens serial: you get a bit of this and a bit of that in each instalment, and favourite characters are brought back every so often to liven things up.
However I think T H White got inside the medieval mind, with all its generosity and strangeness, much better than most modern historians. It's worth reading just for his incomparable re-creation of those times, pitched between the way they probably seemed to those who lived through them and an unashamedly romanticised modern view.
it's wonderful to have this alternate version of the first part of The Once & Future King, but this edition is marred by gormless copyediting that "corrects" much of White's wordplay, destroying part of the book's wit and charm, and sorely disappointing readers who know and love this book. the publishers owe us all a revised edition.
This is a very enjoyable fantasy about a boy called Art and nicknamed the Wart in medieval England; he meets a magician called Merlyn who agrees to be a tutor to Wart and his foster brother Kay. The household is well described, on the Welsh Marches in the middle of the Forest Sauvage. TH White also wrote The Goshawk about his own hawk, which is an early character in the tale.
Sir Ector is the knight here whose son is Kay, and he hosts other strange and batty characters like Sir Perceval and the villagers, the falconer, the dog boy, the King's huntsman once a year. Merlyn tells us that he has come from a future time and is living backwards getting younger. So he can talk of cars, typewriters and more. There isn't much of a plot except to show Art, sorry, Wart, growing up and learning through being changed into creatures like fish, a merlin, a badger. The two lads participate in hay making, archery, hawking, boar hunting, meet Robin Hood (who is strictly from a different time period, but every time had outlaws in the green wood) and have adventures with horrible cannibals of more than one sort. The witch stereotype is here, more of a Baba Yaga than a herb-woman and midwife. As the castle household has no lady, the cottage witch, Maid Marion and a castle housekeeper are all the women we meet.
The oldest legends of King Arthur say that he became king by taking a sword from a - word sometimes translated as stone, but very similar to the word for Saxon at that period. Quite likely Arthur killed a Saxon chief and took his fine sword. Here, the sword stuck in a stone appears right at the end of the tale, when Wart is shown to put his learning to use. Typically the sword has appeared outside a church and word is spread by friars, because in those times a king had to have religious blessing. We also note the difficulty of travel through the wild countryside, and the knights have never been to London.
If you give this to a child you will have to be able to translate the medieval and hunting terms, some of which are explained in the text and some are not. Certainly for a child it will open up a whole different world to modern day and they may be drawn to read more historical tales, fantasy or not. I love the animal life and the way the world depended on animals, and I enjoyed the Questing Beast tremendously. Some of the adventures are short and self-contained which a child will enjoy, but overall it's quite a long story without the usual pacing of modern books. An adult can read it to relax and have a chuckle.
I picked this up having heard that it was something special, expecting a classic retelling of the Arthurian legends, one of those old fashioned children’s books that are also good light reads for adults. Having read it I am not really sure to whom it would appeal today. Perhaps I am missing something but I certainly would not consider it a book suitable for adult readers. Presumably the target audience originally was prep school boys in the mid 20th century to whom the learned references in Latin would mean something but who were not too old for talking owls. I can’t see today’s kids, except perhaps the most precocious, appreciating this sort of thing – much of it must be incomprehensible and the humour, while occasionally genuinely witty, is strange to say the least (does Wart really rhyme with Art?). The attempt to include contemporary references does not really come off that well and some of the dialogue would be meaningless to a modern child. It is not much of a story at all – mostly a series of episodes in which the Wart (Arthur) is transformed into various animals to experience weird and wonderful adventures and insights into different realities. These are certainly highly imaginative but quickly become a little tedious. It was the basis of Disney’s Fantasia and Sword in the Stone but bears only minimal relation to the authentic legends. There must be better retellings of the ‘Matter of Britain’ out there which are both accessible to the young and able to convey a sense of the atmosphere of the originals.