Saturday, January 22, 2011

"The Once and Future King" and "The Book of Merlyn" by T.H. White

Published: 1958 and 1971
Read: 2010
Genre: Fantasy
Setting: England; Boy Arthur to King to death
Rating: 5
List: 1,001 books
Review: Good Reads

Referenced in Writing Fiction for Dummies book.  I’ve always wanted to read stories about King Arthur, Merlin, Gwenever, Camelot, Lancelot, etc and bought the book.  Also one of the 1,001 books.  Absolutely loved it and want to read more.  Agree with the publisher on B&N site:

“The whole world knows and loves this book. It is the magical epic of King Arthur and his shining Camelot; of Merlin and Owl and Guinevere; of beasts who talk and men who fly, of wizardry and war. It is the book of all things lost and wonderful and sad. It is the fantasy masterpiece by which all others are judged.”

Five stories

Sword in the Stone - we see the boy Wart in Sir Ector’s castle who is tutored by Merlyn in unconventional ways (turning Wart into various animals to learn from them).  We see that Wart is a good, kind-hearted boy who thinks of others first, as opposed to Sir Ector’s natural son, Kay - a self-centered, arrogant, spoiled boy.  Wart pulls the sword out of the stone and becomes King Arthur of Britain.

Queen of Air and Darkness - we are introduced to Lot, his wife and A’s half sister (unbeknownst to him), Morgause, the mother of four boys who become knights (Gawaine, Agravaine, Gaheris and Gareth).  She also gives birth to Mordred, A’s bastard son.  Mess business.  In this book, we also witness A”s idea of the Knights of the Round Table, as a way to steer “Might into Right.”

The Ill-Made Knight - we are privy to Sir Lancelot story; the one who becomes one of the most  favored and successful knights and who falls in love with Queen Guenever.  The feeling is mutual and they become lovers.  Arthur is fond of both and deliberately turns a blind eye.  The knights are involved in quests of chivalry but due to the nature of man, become competitive with one another, fraying the whole concept of the Round Table.  Arthur then comes up with ultimate quest that is spiritual in nature - the Quest for the Holy Grail. This distracts the knights for a period of time, but the nature of man, once again shines through.  I

The Candle In the Wind - Mordred, Arthur’s bastard son bides his time and along the enemy of Lancelot,  Agravaine.  They plot against Guenever and Lancelot, using Arthur’s desire for law to settle problems:  if people are guilty of crimes, they must be punished (hanging, burning, etc).
At the end of this story, Arthur is away from England and has left Mordred as Protector.  He seizes power, intending to make himself King and marry Guenever.  When A hears of this, he is broken, tired, disillusioned, weak and feels like “what was the point?  Nothing has worked out as he thought.”

The Book of Meryn - the 5th story and a separate book, Merlyn shows up on the eve of battle and wisks Arthur away to palaver with his old friends, the animals.  They discuss the merits/demerits of man, the reason for war and how to avoid war.  And out of all the species of animals on earth, only man will make deliberate war on each other, a disgusting and abhorrent thought to other animals.

Memorable quotes

Josh’s dream job - 10/18/2010 blog post

“In Sir Ector’s kennel there was a special boy, call the Dog Boy, who lived with the hounds day and night.  He was a sort of head hound, and it was his business to take them out every day for walks, to pull thorns our of their feet, keep cankers out of their ears, bind the smaller bones that got dislocated, dose them for worms, isolate and nurse them in distemper, arbitrate in their quarrels and to sleep curled up among them at night” (43).

Story about a Elijah and the Rabbi.

 “In regard to the poor man who received us so hospitably, it was decreed that his wife was to die that night, but in regard for his goodness, God took the cow instead of his wife  I repaired the wall of the rich miser because a chest of gold was concealed near the place, and if the miser had repaired the wall himself he would have discovered the treasure.  Say not therefore to the Lord; What doest thou?  But say in they heart: Must nor the Lord of all the earth do right? (89).

God moves in mysterious ways - Merlyn’s story to Wart

“The best thing for being sad is to learn something.  That is the only thing that never fails....There is only thing for it then - to learn.  Learn why the world wags and what wags it.  That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.  Learning is the thing for you” (183).

King Arthur’s idea for the Knights of the Round Table:

“My idea is that if we can win this battle in front of us, and get a firm hold of the country, then I will institute a sort of order or chivalry.  We shall have to make it a great honour, you see, and make it fashionable and all that.  Everybody must want to be in.  And then I shall make the oath of the order that Might is only to be used for Right.  The nights in my order will ride all over the world, still dressed in steel and whacking away with their swords - that will give an outlet for wanting to whack you understand, an outlet for what Merlyn calls the foxhunting spirit - but they will be bound to strike only on behalf of what is good, and to restore what has been done wrong in the past and to help the oppressed and so forth.  It will be using the Might instead of fighting against it, and turning a bad thing into a good” (248).

 Lancelot’s deep insecurity - did Josh feel any of this? 10/18/2010 blog post

“The boy thought that there was something wrong with him.  All through his life - even when he was a great man with the world at his feet - he was to feel this gap: something at the bottom of his heart of which he was aware, and ashamed, but which he did not understand” (315). “Finally there was the impediment of his nature.  In the secret parts of his peculiar brain, those unhappy and inextricable tangles which he felt at the roots, the boy was disabled by something we cannot explain.  He could not have explained it either.  He loved Arthur and he loved Guenever and he hated himself.  the best knight in the world: everybody envied the esteem which surely musht be his.  But Lancelot never believed he was good nor nice.  Under the grotesque, magnificent shell with a face like Quasimodo’ s there was shame and self-loathing which had been planted there when he was tiny, by something which is now too late to trace. It is so fatally easy to make young children believe that they are horrible” (368).

“He felt in his heart cruelty and cowardice, the things which made him brave and kind” (361).

Candle in the wind - idea given to a 13 year old boy by and old King Arthur:

“Thomas, my idea of those knights was a sort of candle.  I have carried it for many years with a hand to shield it from the wind.  It has flickered often.  I am giving you the candle now - you won’t let it out? (637).

Read other Arthurian legend books

  • Merlyn Trilogy by Mary Stewart
  • Taliesin Series by Stephen Lawhead
  • The Mists of Avalon Series by Marion Bradley
  • Lost Years Merlin Series by T.A. Barrow
  • Le Morte D'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory

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