Monday, 4 May 2009

T.H. White


"Who so Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of All England."

Terence Hanbury White (29 May 1906–17 January 1964) was an English author best known for his sequence of Arthurian novels, The Once and Future King, first published together in 1958.
Born 29 May 1906(1906-05-29)Bombay, India Died 17 January 1964 (aged 57)Piraeus, Athens Occupation Writer Genres Fantasy InfluencesThomas Malory, J. R. R. Tolkien[1] InfluencedGregory Maguire, Ed McBain, Michael Moorcock, J. K. Rowling
White was born in Bombay, India, the son of Garrick Hansbury White, an Indian police superintendent, and Constance White.[2] Terence White had a discordant childhood, with an alcoholic father and an emotionally frigid mother, and his parents separated when Terence was fourteen.[3][4] White went to Cheltenham College, a public school, and Queens' College, Cambridge, where he was tutored by the scholar and occasional author L. J. Potts. Potts became a lifelong friend and correspondent, and White later referred to him as "the great literary influence in my life."[3] While at Queens' College, White wrote a thesis on Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur (without reading it),[5] and graduated in 1928 with a first-class degree in English.[2]
White then taught at Stowe School, Buckinghamshire, for four years. In 1936 he published England Have My Bones, a well-received memoir about a year spent in England. The same year, he left Stowe and lived in a workman's cottage, where he wrote and "revert[ed] to a feral state", engaging in falconry, hunting, and fishing.[6][2] White also became interested in aviation, partly to conquer his fear of heights.[citation needed] White wrote to a friend that in autumn 1937, "I got desperate among my books and picked [Malory] up in lack of anything else. Then I was thrilled and astonished to find that (a) The thing was a perfect tragedy, with a beginning, a middle and an end implicit in the beginning and (b) the characters were real people with recognisable reactions which could be forecast[...] Anyway, I somehow started writing a book."[5] The novel, which White described as "a preface to Malory",[5] was titled The Sword in the Stone and told the story of the boyhood of King Arthur. White was also influenced by Freudian psychology and his lifelong involvement in natural history. The Sword in the Stone was well-reviewed and was a Book of the Month Club selection in 1939.[2]
In February 1939, White moved to Doolistown, Ireland, where he lived out the international crisis and the Second World War itself as a de facto conscientious objector.[7] It was in Ireland that he wrote most of what would later become The Once and Future King; two sequels to The Sword and the Stone were published during this time: The Witch in the Wood (later retitled The Queen of Air and Darkness) in 1939, and The Ill-Made Knight in 1940. The version of The Sword in the Stone included in The Once and Future King differs in several respects from the earlier version. It is darker, and some critics prefer the earlier version. White's indirect experience of the war had a profound effect on these tales of King Arthur, which include commentaries on war and human nature in the form of a heroic narrative.
In 1946, White settled in Alderney, one of the smaller Channel Islands, where he lived for the rest of his life.[6] The same year, White published Mistress Masham's Repose, a children's book in which a young girl discovers a group of Lilliputians (the tiny people in Swift's Gulliver's Travels) living near her house. In 1947, he published The Elephant and the Kangaroo, in which a repetition of Noah's Flood occurs in Ireland. In the early 1950s White published two non-fiction books: The Age of Scandal (1950), a collection of essays about 18th-century England, and The Goshawk (1951), an account of White's attempt to train a hawk in the traditional art of falconry. In 1954 White translated and edited The Book of Beasts, an English translation of a medieval bestiary originally written in Latin.
In 1958 White completed the fourth book of The Once and Future King sequence, The Candle in the Wind, though it was first published with the other three parts and has never been published separately. The Broadway musical Camelot was based on The Once and Future King, as was the animated film The Sword in the Stone.
He died on 17 January 1964 aboard ship in Piraeus, Greece (Athens, Greece) of a heart ailment, en route to Alderney from a lecture tour in the United States.[2]
He is buried in First Cemetery of Athens. In 1977 The Book of Merlyn, a conclusion to The Once and Future King, was published posthumously.
Personal lifeAccording to Sylvia Townsend Warner's biography, White was "a homosexual and a sado-masochist."[6] He came close to marrying several times but had no enduring romantic relationships, and wrote in his diaries that "It has been my hideous fate to be born with an infinite capacity for love and joy with no hope of using them."[6] White was also an agnostic,[8] and towards the end of his life a heavy drinker.[3][9]
InfluenceScience-fiction writer Michael Moorcock enjoyed White's The Once and Future King, and was especially influenced by the underpinnings of realism in his work.[10] Moorcock eventually engaged in a "wonderful correspondence" with White, and later recalled that "White [gave] me some very good advice on how to write".[10][11] J. K. Rowling has said that T. H. White's writing strongly influenced the Harry Potter books; several critics have compared Rowling's character Albus Dumbledore to White's absent-minded Merlyn,[12][13] and Rowling herself has described White's Wart as "Harry's spiritual ancestor."[14] Gregory Maguire was influenced by "White's ability to be intellectually broadminded, to be comic, to be poetic, and to be fantastic" in the writing of his 1995 novel Wicked,[15] and crime fiction writer Ed McBain also cited White as an influence.[16]
Selected bibliography
England Have My Bones (1936)

The Once and Future King /The Sword in the Stone (1938)

The Queen of Air and Darkness (1939, originally titled The Witch in the Wood)

The Ill-Made Knight (1940)

The Candle in the Wind (1958)

Mistress Masham's Repose (1946)
The Elephant and the Kangaroo (1947)

The Age of Scandal (1950)

The Goshawk (1951)

The Book of Beasts (translator, 1954)

The Book of Merlyn (1977)
Notes
1 Attebery, Brian (1980). The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature: From Irving to Le Guin. Bloomington: Indiana University. ISBN 0-2533-5665-2.

2 "T. H. White Dead; Novelist was 57" (fee required), The New York Times, 1964-01-18. Retrieved on 2008-02-10.

3 c Craig, Patricia. "Lives and letters," The Times Literary Supplement, 1989-04-07. p. 362.

4 Annan, Noel. "Character: The White-Garnett Letters and T. H. White" (book review), The New York Review of Books 11.8, 1968-11-07. Retrieved on 2008-02-13.
5 Gallix, Francois, ed (1982). Letters to a Friend: The Correspondence Between T. H. White and L. J. Potts. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 0-3991-2693-7. p. 93-95. (Reprinted here.)

6 Allen, Walter. "Lucky In Art Unlucky In Life" (fee required), The New York Times, 1968-04-21. Retrieved on 2008-02-10.

7 "The Importance of The Second World War to T. H. White's "Once and Future King"". Retrieved on 2008-04-30.

8 Wilson, A. N. "World of books: The knights with right on their side", The Telegraph, 2006-06-03. Retrieved on 2008-02-10.

9 Cantwell, Mary. "Books of the Times: Letters to a Friend" (book review), The New York Times, 1982-09-10. Retrieved on 2008-02-13.

10 Hudson, Patrick. "Fifty Percent Fiction: Michael Moorcock" (interview), The Zone, 2001-2002. Retrieved on 2008-02-10.

11 Klaw, Rick. "Michael Moorcock serves up sword and sorcery with a new Elric adventure", Sci Fi Weekly, 2001-04-02. Retrieved on 2008-02-10.
12 "Real Wizards: The Search for Harry's Ancestors". Channel4.com (2001). Retrieved on 2007-06-01.

13 Evelyn M Perry. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Novel". Retrieved on 2007-06-01. 14 "JK (JOANNE KATHLEEN) ROWLING (1966-)". Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved on 2007-10-08.

15 Nolan, Tom. "Gregory Maguire Brews Another Wicked Mix of Historical Fiction & Timeless Myth", Bookselling This Week, 2003-09-16. Retrieved on 2008-02-10.

16 "What Authors Influenced You?", Authorsontheweb.com. Retrieved on 2007-07-10.
References
Warner, Sylvia Townsend (1967). T. H. White: A Biography. New York: Viking.
The Sword in the Stone is a novel by T. H. White, published in 1938, initially a stand-alone work but now the first part of a tetralogy The Once and Future King.

Walt Disney Productions adapted the story to an animated film, and the BBC adapted it to radio.

The novel is about a young boy named Wart who befriends a magician named Merlyn. As we suspect all along, but only find out for sure at the end, Wart is actually the future King Arthur. The title refers to a sword that was magically embedded in a stone so that only the future, true-born king of England would be able to remove it.
The premise is that Arthur's youth, not dealt with in Malory, was a time when he was tutored by Merlyn to prepare him for the use of power and royal life. Merlyn magically turns Wart into various animals at times. He also has more human adventures, at one point meeting the outlaw Robin Hood, (who is referred to in the novel as Robin Wood). The setting is loosely based on medieval England, and in places it incorporates White's considerable knowledge of medieval culture (as in relation to hunting, falconry and jousting). However it makes no attempt at consistent historical accuracy, and incorporates some obvious anachronisms (aided by the concept that Merlyn lives backwards in time rather than forwards, unlike everyone else).
The version appearing in 1959 in the tetralogy was substantially revised, partly to incorporate events and themes that White had originally intended to cover in a fifth volume (which was finally published after his death, as The Book of Merlyn). To this end, the revised version includes several new episodes, including a pacifist passage in which Arthur is transformed into a wild goose that flies so high as to not be able to perceive national boundaries. It leaves out some of the episodes that had appeared in the original (notably Merlyn's battle with Madam Mim which appeared in the Disney film). Many critics considered that the revised version was actually inferior to the original. Publishers tended to use the original version when it was published independently of the tetralogy; both versions are still in print.
The reasons White made these revisions are open to speculation. The Sword in the Stone, although it includes some serious themes, is to some extent a rather whimsical fantasy of Merry England. Its connection with the classical Arthurian legend was actually rather limited, although what it did take from the Arthurian legend was accurate. It was awkward to treat this as the first part of a more serious treatment of the Arthurian legend. It is also possible that White felt in a darker mood after the Second World War. It has also been said that due to wartime censorship, the publishers did not want to print some of White's more strident Anti-War sentiments (which are very prevalent in "The Book of Merlyn"). White is an example, along with Jerome K. Jerome and Compton Mackenzie, of a serious writer who became best remembered for a comical work .
Walt Disney Productions made an animated movie adaptation of The Sword in the Stone, first released on December 25, 1963 by Buena Vista Distribution. Like most Disney films, it is based on the general plot of the original story, but much of the substance of the story is considerably changed.
A BBC radio adaptation in 1982 starred Michael Hordern as Merlyn. Hordern had already starred as another great literary wizard, Tolkien's Gandalf, in the BBC's 1981 radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.