Jan 17, 08
anyone who enjoys adventure, romance, history, or fantasy
Read in January, 2008
I read this book about every two years. It is one of my absolute favorites. The stories and the characters are so well-crafted that I can read it over-and-over time and again with just as much pleasure as the first time.
This novel is actually divided into four 'books' within itself, and while you can read the four books out of order, it really is meant to be read from front to back.
The first book, "The Sword In The Stone", is much like the Disney animated movie that was adapted from it. There are a few scenes in the movie which are not in the book, and quite a bit in the book which is not in the movie, but the overall flavor is the same, and the essence of the story is there. The main thing lacking from the movie, which is quite important in the novel, is that Merlin is teaching Arthur (Wart) about the ways of humanity, civilization, and society, so that when he becomes the King he will not just continue with things as they have been, but learn to reason and think for himself, to try his best to make the world a better place. These lessons are referred to again and again later in the novel. This first book has far more magic and fairy-tale qualities than any of the rest of the book.
The second book is called "The Queen of Air and Darkness", and primarily has to do with Arthur's nephews from his half-sister, Morgause, and ends with Morgause, not knowing that Arthur is her half-brother, bewitching him and seducing him to give her a child. This child, Mordred, is the essence of fate of Arthur and what makes this novel such a tragedy. White reveals this information as well, and knowing it here does not spoil the remainder of the book in anyway. This second book is one of the shortest of the four.
The third book is easily my favorite and is called "The Ill-Made Knight". It is the story of Sir Lancelot. This portion of the novel (and many smaller pieces of it) are where a great many Hollywood movies pull their King Arthur and Lancelot material from, only they usually get it all wrong. Lancelot, in this book, is the greatest knight in the world, though he is quite ugly - not the sexy and charming knight as is always portrayed in the movies. His face is often compared to a gargoyle. I believe this is quite important. It helps the reader to better understand his relationship with Queen Guenevere ("Jenny") and to understand that the Queen does not have this lifelong affair with her husband's best friend simply because he is charming and handsome and the best knight in the world. The character of Lancelot (as are Arthur and Guenevere) is so richly charactered. His struggles with his faith and humanity, and how those play against his love for his best friend's wife, are his lifelong struggles. Lancelot is shown to be an honest person, of the truest sense, even though he lives this lifelong struggle of adultery with his best friend's wife. The love triangle between Lancelot, Guenevere, and Arthur (and Qudrangle with God, as White often represents it) is the heart of this book, though the book really focuses on Lancelot's internal struggles. This book also serves to explore Arthur's attempts at removing the "Might Is Right" mentality of the Middle Ages, and gives us the Quest for the Holy Grail stories. This book, along with the first book, represents the bulk of this novel's content.
The last book, "A Candle In The Wind", brings together all the elements of Arthur's tragedy. The irony in this book is how Arthur's own new system of "justice" is used against him bring to light (publicly) the affair between Lancelot and Guenever.
This novel is a wonderful exploration of humanity, society, and civilization, and a beautiful fairy tale tragedy.