Tag Archives: the once and future king

Book Review: The Once and Future King

“If I were to be made a knight, I should pray to God to let me encounter all the evil in the world in my own person, so that if I conquered there would be none left, and, if I were defeated, I would be the one to suffer for it.”

the-once-and-future-king“Many of the greatest books are like a forest,” writes Anthony Esolen. “The best way to get to know them is to wander right into the middle and get lost.”

Getting lost is precisely what I had in mind when I picked up T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. My reading of late has consisted primarily of non-fiction – “damn good stuff,” as Lt. Archie Hicox would say, but hardly a Forest-for-Losing-Oneself-In. I needed a story, and I needed one because for me, stories are like WD-40 for the brain: they keep all the wheels and gears and clicky-things running smoothly. Without them, cognitive function becomes a bore. I mean, really. Why even bother?

As far as stories themselves go, are there any grander than that of King Arthur and his famed spheroidal dining furniture (more colloquially known as the Round Table)? The tale hath been told a thousand times in a thousand ways. In fact, it was Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur that I was going to read; but since Mallory was absent from my bookshelf, and White was very cheerfully present, I had a change of plans.

White’s storytelling is something of a marvel to me, because I can think of no other book in recent memory that so beautifully melds humor and pathos. In Book One, young Arthur (affectionately dubbed “the Wart”) is given a thorough education by his tutor Merlyn – an education which consists, among of other things, of being turned into a fish, and helping Robin Wood (Hood is merely a misnomer) kill a Griffin. You know, the usual K-12 stuff.

It’s all delightfully fun reading. Gentle, too. But as Arthur matures, so does the story (just as Harry Potter grew with its readership). The plot thickens, exactly the way broth would if you poured a bit of cement into it. Unpleasant characters like Queen Morgause are introduced. Battles are fought. Blood is spilt. Feuds are nursed. Arthur’s ablest knight and closest friend, Sir Lancelot, carries on an affair with Guinevere. The downward spiral begins, as it generally does in such stories, with the final third of the book being especially tragic. What started as a frolic ends as a sobering meditation on the glory, savagery, and frailty of man himself.

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On the Bookshelf XXVI

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The Once and Future King by T.H. White
A classic retelling of the story of King Arthur. Meant to read for school last year and never picked it up. So I just did. If the first paragraph is any indication, this will be tremendously entertaining.
Beyond Good and Evil by Frederic Nietzsche
Nietzsche for the win. (Not really.) First impressions? Dry as the Sahara, cranky as Hades, occasionally very fascinating, often very dull, and rather difficult to take seriously. Thankfully, it’s getting more interesting the deeper I go. More wrong, too – but at least more interesting in its wrongness.
In the Beginning: Great Opening Lines from Your Favorite Books edited by Hans Bauer
Presenting the first sentence to over 700 novels – including many of the good (The Road), some of the bad (Twilight), and every now and then, the very ugly (50 Shades of Grey? Are we for realz?). Anyway, it’s an amusing little read, and as a writer, I enjoyed seeing how various authors approach the all-important first hook. Thanks to brother Eddie for pointing me to it.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
One of my favorite stories, long overdue for a re-read. It’s been a few years since my first time through, so I’m looking forward to savoring it again. If you have neglected to read it even once, well, what is wrong with you exactly? Get on with it.

What’s on your bookshelf right now?