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The Once and Future King

Page history last edited by Aaron Finnessey 10 years, 4 months ago






The Once and Future King - Erica Guja





The Once and Future King - Erica Guja



     The Once and Future King is the most famous of T. H White’s books and is a collection of different works that are all based on Sir Thomas Malory Morte d’Arthur. The collection consists of “The Sword in the Stone,” “The Queen of Air and Darkness,” “The Ill-Made Knight,” and “The Candle in the Wind”.


     The Sword in the Stone is about Arthur growing up and its based on a character called The Wart who lives in Sir Ector’s castle and has a brother named Kay. The main controversy is that Kay is Sir Ector’s biological son, but The Wart, whose real name is Art, is adopted. The Wart struggles, especially in the beginning of the story, with the fact that he will never be Sir Ectors “true son”. The problems arise because Kay gets away with making a lot of mistakes, when the Wart feels embarrassed and insecure when he makes mistakes. The story takes on a magical and fairytale like theme. The fairy-tale world makes the plot a bit confusing 

at some points but the historical portion of the narrative remains throughout.

     The Wart is the protagonist of story and his ideas about the structure of society and the power relations that base a government are the main focus throughout.. The Wart is a very trusting, simple and kind person who demonstrates these characters when he is king so it makes sense.


     The storyline is based on adventures and Wart finds another character named Merlyn who acts as a role model and tutor for The Wart. Merlyn teaches The Wart many things as he is traveling on adventures and morphing into animals. Eventually at the end of an adventure The Wart pulls the sword from the strong and becomes Arthur, King of England!


     The wars that were existing in Medieval England were depicted throughout The Once and Future King and the different political forces are depicted in the works. In chapter five, Merlyn transforms the Wart into a fish and they go through an adventure where the Wart is learning to swim. There theres is a discussion about power and the value it has. The Wart’s idea of power is about the government and the political aspects of power. “Power is of the individual mind, but the mind’s power is not enough. Power of the body decides everything in the end, and only Might is Right.” This discussion about the difference between “might” and “right” is about the English society and the difference between war and justice.


     One aspect of the works that is worth connecting to Medieval England is the focus on the castle. The single castle acts as a character itself, being large and powerful. Arthur, or the Wart lives in Sir Ector’s castle that is in the forest Sauvage. This scene of the castle is that it has its own personality of limitless possibilities.


     Another portion of the work that is representative of Medieval England is The Holy Grail. The Holy Grail represents a power that even Arthur’s knights are incapable of achieving. THe search for the Grail entails a pure mind and soul and shows everything Arthur has not achieved. This is demonstrated by the unsuccessful attempts of Arthur throughout this work.


     Personally, I thought that this is one of the more entertaining works that involves Arthur. The adventurous and fairytale like plot structure adds for entertainment. This is why this novel would be a better source for students in a high school setting. Students may not be interested in the Medieval writing of Arthur, but if they read a storyline that is set up in an entertaining way they will be able to grasp the information in an enjoyable way. 




A Review by Heather Edmunds:  Why should we teach The Once and Future King in high school classrooms?

     The Once and Future King by T.H. White is a great text to incorporate into a high school classroom.  There are many stories about King Arthur and his knights; some are far more interesting than others and The Once and Future King would fall under that category.  The novel tells the story of King Arthur's life from the time he was a boy, when he was called "the Wart," in which he pulled the sword from the stone in order to become king, all the way up until his death.  The plot of this novel is very similar to other stories about King Arthur but it is a much easier read than other stories like the ones written by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Marie de France or tales from the Mabinogion.  Adolescents would enjoy reading stories of Arthur's young life, such as the ever popular event of him pulling the sword from the stone because it is something many of them have prior knowledge of, (leave it up to Walt Disney).  Another positive for adolescents reading this novel is that stories of Lancelot and Guenevere may also be familiar to them and many teenagers, males especially, find Lancelot to be a very intriguing character.

     There are many literary elements to be taught through a unit of study on The Once and Future King.  For example, characterization is a skill that can be taught to adolescents by the analysis of major characters such as Lancelot, Guenevere and King Arthur, and one could also incorporate teaching about protagonists and antagonists.  The development of King Arthur in this novel is very interesting to follow when studying characterization.  In the novel, White makes a point to develop Arthur as a considerate person who is easy to like.  He sets up the Round Table, he respects his knights and strives to find activities for them to partake in.  The negativity that one cannot help but notice about Arthur however, is that he is too naive and maybe too nice.  He fails to recognize the affair between Lancelot and Guenevere and even when he does learn of the affair, he wants it to remain a secret.  Readers and students in particular in such a unit of study, could argue that King Arthur is an unintelligent man or a stubborn fool, but one could argue that is gentle and caring at the same time.  Considering there are aspects in the novel that persuade readers both ways, it would be interesting to give students an activity where they have to pick a side, or maybe give them a writing assignment in which they rewrite Arthur's life story through a particular perspective.  Another literary element that could be used in teaching this novel while studying King Arthur's characterization is foreshadowing.  Students can take a deep look into Arthur's character to predict the fall of Camelot.  For example, a lesson on foreshadowing could examine the way that King Arthur relies so heavily on what Merlin tells him to do.  Even before he was king, Arthur followed Merlin's directions.  What signals does that reflect for the future if Arthur cannot ask for Merlin's help?

     Other studies of characterization can focus on the contradictions in Lancelot's personality.  White makes it clear that Lancelot is a good knight and a close friend of King Arthur's, but he is also having an affair with Guenevere and claims to be religious yet lustful, which is quite the paradox for a "great knight" of his stature.  Another lesson in characterization and even motif revolves around the analysis of Guenevere.  Can she be blamed for the fall of Camelot?  How would female students react to White's depiction of her?  It could be interesting...read The Once and Future King and see!




T.H. White’s The Once and Future King

Cory Gomez


            Published in 1958, but written during the Second World War, The Once and Future King is a contemporary spin on the legendary tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Filled with references to prior Arthurian adventures, White draws upon the classics to create a modern retelling, suitable for the expectations of today’s readers. White alludes to Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory in his title as when Arthur is laid to rest, his tombstone reads, “Here lies Arthur, king once, and king to be.” Much like many other tales, White breaks up his novel into four separate stories, narrowing in on specific monumental events during Arthur’s time including “The Sword in the Stone,” “The Queen of Air and Darkness,” “The Ill Made Knight,” and “The Candle in the Wind.”

            However, where White differs from his predecessors is in his language practices. White makes this famous tale accessible to his audience by putting the familiar plot into an even more familiar language. Impressively though, White manages to stay true to some of the techniques used before him. For example, “Sir Ector’s castle stood in an enormous clearing in a still more enormous forest,” (12) reflects the exaggeration that so heavily influenced older Arthurian literature.

            Most famous characters are re-envisioned and make appearances within the text as readers see Arthur, Merlyn, Mordred, Gawaine, Morgan le Fay, Guenever, and of course, Sir Lancelot.

            From Arthur’s upbringing and his infamous pulling of the sword out of stone, to Lancelot’s treason, and finally the fall of Camelot, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King takes a classic tale and modernizes it, purposely to reflect a world effected by World War Two. 

T.H. White’s The Once and Future King

A review by the Aaron Finnessey


     What sets T. H. White from Sir Thomas Malory? Chrétien de Troyes? The Pearl poet? Without a doubt, it is his matchless courage as a writer. He stands tall among giants, wise among scholars, and humorous among jesters. While drawing upon literally centuries of literary history and traditions, White quivers not in his boots within the pages of The Once and Future King. His readers quest with King Arthur (aka "The Wart") through rainstorms, bizarre assaults from kings of kingdoms in far-off lands, and transmogrification at its finest.

     Simply taking a stab at the Arthurian tradition is a feat well worth its own merit. We have all the elements necessary for a story of this magnitude! Knights! Magic! Birds! Hunting! I'd be willing to bet that Terence has read quite a few Arthurian stories in his day. No, this is no mere guesswork for White; it's real work. The kind that people get paid for. In his description of Merlyn's home, White takes exaggeration to a near-Mabinogion level. He lists and lists, and when he's finished, he lists some more. Although this illustration does not take up the pages that the army roster did of the aforementioned Welsh tales, the astute reader will appreciate White's allusionary abilities. 

     Great. White knows Arthur. A well-read author does not good reading make. For me, what really puts T.H. ahead of his predecessors, particularly for a contemporary audience is the accessibility of his humor. Assuredly, Chrétien, Malory, and Marie all had their ways about them as writers. Just as certain, they included humor, like White. White, however, has the advantage of being hundreds of years their youth. The prime benefit of writing for readers within the century is that cultural and linguistic values are generally the same. There is none of this mucking about in ambiguity or deep-thought. Very plainly, amid the previously mentioned description of Merlyn's home, two items of note are as follows: "the fourteenth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (marred as it was by the sensationalism of the popular plates)" and "a complete set of cigarette cards depicting wild fowl by Peter Scott"(White 25).

     In my opinion, what makes these selections so outstandingly entertaining are their anachronistic qualities and the humor than often lies within. Arthur's story is generally accepted to have taken place in the vicinity of the 12th century, but the Encyclopaedia Britannica was not published until the mid-18th century (the 14th edition, not until well into the 20th century), nor was well-known British ornithologist, Sir Peter Scott, born until 1909. The possibility for Merlyn's ownership of these things only exists if one completely suspends any form of disbelief and instead, accepts what Merlyn claims as fact, that he is living backwards where most people live forwards. I suggest a reader do the exact opposite. Be aware of these absolutely outrageous interjections of our realities with Arthur's. Enjoy them. You will not regret it. 




T.H. White's The Once and Future King   

A review by Jennifer Petrosino


     For us book lovers, nothing is better than a monstrous book that we can sink our teeth into. Just looking at The Once and Future King, by T.H. White, it is evident that it will be packed with enough content to make for a truly interesting story. It could overwhelm readers at first glance; however, be warned: this is not a “light” read. This book, which is based on Arthurian literature, takes a spin on the old stories, and in doing so, opens an engaging world with such detailed characters that only detailed works manage to do effectively.


     Not the biggest fan of Arthurian literature, I wasn’t pleased when I had to read this book for class. It was terrifyingly long, and was on a subject matter that didn’t seem to captivate my interest, really. However, upon reading, I discovered a few key things that shaped how I would come to think of this book. The characterization of King Arthur as Wart, and the time that is spent allowing the reader to connect with him, furthers the stories that we’ve read from ages ago. We are let into Arthur’s character in a way that we have not yet been (or at least I haven’t been) before. Not only does this work to modernize the piece, and enhance it for current readers, but it also encourages the reader to continue on the lengthy journey that is this book alongside the protagonist.


     This book works to do many things, and perhaps that is the reason by which T.H. White needed to make it so long indeed. For one, as I have mentioned, this book allows us to look at Arthur closer. Secondly, this book zeroes in on the love triangle between Arthur, Guenevere, and Lancelot. And lastly, (though I’m sure there are many other things on White’s agenda) this book also raises some important moral and political questions to the reader, which work to give the text deep meaning.


     If I hadn't expected to enjoy this book, but still managed to, I can guarantee you that you would enjoy it. For anyone who has ever enjoyed watching or reading anything Arthurian, this will be a treat, and something you will want to read nice and slow, so as to not finish too quickly!

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