Corinne's Reviews > The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King by T.H. White
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Jun 21, 09

bookshelves: ward-book-club
Read in June, 2008

This book terrified me, on many levels. It's 667 pages long, to begin with. It's been a while since I read a serious chunkster like that (besides Harry Potter, which somehow in my mind doesn't really count...).

Besides that, I am just not a fan of "Authur" stories, despite my deep love of the Disney movie The Sword and the Stone, of course. Ever since I saw the musical "Camelot" in the theater when I was in high school, the story just didn't appeal to me. Then my book club chose this as our monthly selection and I finally decided it was time to tackle this monster.

Was it worth reading? Absolutely. This book is so much more than just Arthur and Camelot. The first section of the book is essentially the Disney movie, and that part does grab you and you love Wart so much that you keep reading just to find out how it ends for him (although, it got harder and harder to keep reading for a while there, in the middle - it got a bit slow).

White, our beloved author, is a genius, really. He's like your friend or fellow book club member, who just happened to be there, in the middle ages, and he's telling you the story with his own language and always using references to modern day concerns and people. He sometimes appears to mock them and their ways (oh, especially those blundering old knights...), other times he pities them, but mostly, I felt as though he was trying to understand them and why they made the choices they did.

The book is, to me, chiefly three different things.

First, it is a the "historical" study of England at the time, which is interesting and confusing at the same time, with many Lords and Kings and battles etc. Obviously this is a fantasy book and it's based on legend, but either way, we read a lot of political and historical stuff.

Second, much of the book is devoted to a character study of Arthur and Guinevere and Lancelot. Arthur, the imperfect, naive, thoughtful and above all, forgiving king. Guinevere, the stubborn and difficult to understand queen/mistress - White often just tells us straight out that he doesn't know why she made the choices she did. And Lancelot - the ill-made knight, the self-loathing hero of the round table who made a lot of mistakes and yet always tried his best to be moral (except where Guinevere was concerned, of course).

Thirdly, I felt like this was a very moral and philosophical book. White asks difficult questions, usually through Arthur, trying to figure out questions like: Is man inherently good? Why do we have wars and what causes them? Which do we owe more loyalty to, our family (clan) or our country? Is it better to get revenge or to forgive? How do we best create peace: through worship, through wars or through civil justice?

This book is truly a work of art. I must admit however, that as soon as the "Sword in the Stone" section of the book is over, the story was completely depressing, in every way imaginable. Nearly everyone is either deceived, deceitful, or unhappy. Bad things are constantly happening to good people and even the good people seem to be constantly making bad choices. I must also admit that it was still insanely interesting and worthwhile - and, even amid the depressing things, I found myself laughing out loud. Often I found myself pondering the idea of actions and consequences and how often our actions can lead to things in our future that we never could've imagined. My heart ached for Arthur, for what he had and for what he lost.

But, you should read it. Read it for Arthur and Sir Pellinore and for White's use of the word "chuckle-head." I'd be surprised if you regret it.
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Comments (showing 1-15)




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message 15: by Anne (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anne Sir Pellinore is one of my favorite characters in the whole thing--and his son's recounting of the Quest for the Holy Grail is one of my favorite parts of the whole book.


message 14: by Cami (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cami Lovely review. I agree on all points. A gem!


lowercase it's one of my favorite books of all time. urban myth says it was banned in the UK when it was first published, during WWII, because of fears that it would undermine the people's will to make war. i read it during the vietnam war, and, i must admit, it certainly undermined my own.



Andrew Thanks for this review. It helped me understand what I read.


Azareen Great review...I teach this book to my 10th graders, may I share your review with them?


Corinne Azareen wrote: "Great review...I teach this book to my 10th graders, may I share your review with them?"

please do :)




message 9: by Heidi L. (new) - added it

Heidi L. Wow, your review has peaked my interest... enough to give it a try! Great review!


message 8: by julia (new)

julia I remember reading this book many years ago, and all I remember is that I didn't like it. Since my friend Callista also loves this book, perhaps I should give it another try. The next time I get 'in' to Arthurian Lore (I'm currently 'in' to 60's TV shows, particularly those about WWII). I go in cycles. I know, TMI for a comment.


Lady of the Lake Fantastic review! Well written and does a wonderful accurate job of laying out what to expect and reasons to lose yourself in the pages of this wonderful book! Thanks for taking the time to write such a great review!


Welwyn Katz Beautifully reviewed. Thoughtfulness in every sentence. Thank you.


Saphira Moonstone I love your review! I decided to write a paper on the love triangle between Art, Gwen, and Lance. I'm using different character names and a different setting. Unfortunately, the paper is due tomorrow and I'm only on the last book. Art still doesn't know that Gwen is cheating on him. I'm still going to finish this wonderful book, but can you tell me how Art takes it. I greatly appreciate it! Thanks!!!!


message 4: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Very good review.
You say the book is around 650 page, but the one I read had around 800. Was the Book Of Merlyn included in yours ?


Saphira Moonstone Mine didn't have the Book of Merlyn. I also believe that mine was around 690. Hmm . . . I had an odd versiobn. Was the Book of Merlyn still part of the story?


Cathy Great review! I agree completely. The Sword in the Stone was slow for me, too, but afterwards I could not put this book down! I found it to be funny at the most surprising of times. White really did write a masterpiece. I'm in awe, frankly.


Susan The break between The Sword In The Stone and the rest of the book felt very much like a coming- of- age. White allowed the boy Arthur to have an innocent and magical childhood, if an imperfect one; a gift in exchange for the heartbreaking choices to come.


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