Off the Shelf

The Once and Future King

By Marcus Pan

The Once and Future KingThe Round Table. Chivalry. Sir Launcelot DuLac. These are things that have been so infused into elements of writing, media, and in some cases pop culture. The story of King Arthur, as told by Malory in Le Morte De Arthur (The Death of Arthur) has been told and retold for centuries. And a beautiful story it is, too. T.H. White has done a superb job taking the mythology (history?) further into the realm of fantasy, infusing the history as told by Malory and others with wonderful magical energy and moralistic charm.

At first start, the reading of The Once and Future King went kind of slow. I fear my head was filled with pulp reading of the modern day that I stumbled over Olde English references, spellings and Latin crossovers. But, like riding a bike, I was into it quite well after only a small portion of the book. Admittedly, White's writing style is unique and difficult compared to most other writers in the modern genres. I wouldn't suggest it for anyone who's not gone beyond Poppy Z. Brite or Stephen King. They write for the masses - White writes for the scholar.

T.H. White takes the story of King Arthur a step further into fiction. He spends much ground covering the life of The Wart - King Arthur at a young age. We follow Arthur in his studies with Merlyn as the old and perky mage changes him into various animals, teaches him kindness and civility and arms him with the weapons to change the world. Merlyn's character is indeed a lot of fun. Imbued with a unique senselessness, as he fumbles over spells and embarrassing situations. T.H. White's picture of Merlyn is a comfortable and fun combination of Gandalf* and Fizban**.

One of the greatest properties of this book is White's sense of moralistic ideals. He feeds them willingly into the lessons of Merlyn and Arthur does the best he can do to follow the principles of his mentor. Using these teachings White explains how the idea of a round table got settled like a seed in Arthur's mind to grow into one of the greatest bastions of chivalry and civility the world has ever known. All of Arthur's life is covered - but White doesn't spend too much time discussing the facets of the Holy Grail quest, or the taking of Merlyn by Nimue. Instead he concentrates on adding as much flesh and blood realism the characters can take. King Arthur, Launcelot, and Guenevere especially are covered in personal detail. Feelings, love and honor at the forefront of the story, White takes us into the hearts and minds of the people of and around the Round Table.

Arthur's fight against the old baron's code of Might Makes Right, he uses the teachings of Merlyn to do his best to instead put forth and help grow the idea of Might For Right. The Round Table of knights are to be out to protect the people of his kingdom - not to further the idiosyncrasies of a single house. And in doing so Chivalry is born, flourishes and, in the end, passes. The anguish White puts through Arthur's final days against Mordred, his own son, are real and felt by anyone reading the story. As a final act of abjuration, Arthur sends forth Tom, a boy of twelve, from his battle camp to keep the "candle" of chivalry and justice burning. Moments later he leaves his pavilion to fight to the death with the armies of Mordred.

The Once And Future King is a charming rendition of the life, feelings and wishes of King Arthur of Camelot. The characters of his story have more flesh and blood than most people I've shook hands with. If you're looking for a clashing adventure of men at arms and knights in armor, this isn't it. This is more a moralistic journey into the heart of chivalry and justice. One man's dreams and the attempt of an old man to set right as much as he could before he left our world behind.

"The Once And Future King" by T.H. White
Published by Ace Books by arrangement with G. P. Putnam's Sons
Copyright © 1939, 1940 & 1958 by T. H. White
ISBN 0-441-62740-4
* Of The Hobbit fame.
** Of Dragonlance fame.

Click to Buy!
Buy It