Monday, 4 May 2009

Group Reading: The Once and Future King


Based on medieval Arthurian legends, The Once and Future King is a twentieth-century version of young Arthur's quest for the sword Excalibur and his claim to the throne of England. Including many well-known and much-loved episodes with Merlyn, the sorcerer; Morgan La Fay, the witch; and knights jousting and hounds engaged in the hunt, White's novel adds to the lore surrounding the person of King Arthur.

Quartet of novels by T.H. White, published in a single volume in 1958. The quartet comprises The Sword in the Stone (1938), The Queen of Air and Darkness--first published as The Witch in the Wood (1939)--The Ill-Made Knight (1940), and The Candle in the Wind (published in the composite volume, 1958). The series is a retelling of the Arthurian legend, from Arthur's birth to the end of his reign, and is based largely on Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur. After White's death, a conclusion to The Once and Future King was found among his papers; it was published in 1977 as The Book of Merlyn.

The Once and Future King defies classification. Is it for children, or for adults? Is it fantasy or a psychological novel? In its great range, it encompasses poetry and farce, comedy and tragedy -and sudden flights of schoolboy humour. White's footnote to Malory' (his own phrase) resulted in the last major retelling of the story based on Malory's Morte DarthurWhite's story of Arthur begins with his enfances', set in an imaginary medieval England, but it is far removed from the conventional historical novel. White was writing in wartime England, a country increasingly absorbed by a need to find an antidote to war. Through the medium of the Arthurian story he found his own voice, his unique contribution to keeping alive the flame of civilisation. Malory's chivalric virtues are rejected in favour of White's own twentieth-century values; the love affair of Lancelot and Guenever is interpreted in terms of modern psychology. The books which eventually made up The Once and Future Kingof 1958 appeared in distinctly different editions
In discussing these, we need to look at some of the ways in which White drew on his own personal experience at a deep psychological level, while also incorporating into his story material inspired by his antiquarian pursuits and by his years as a schoolmaster. White's use of historical material, and the relationship of The Once and Future King to the Morte Darthur

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