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The Once and Future King

(The Once and Future King #1-4)

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  106,039 ratings  ·  4,168 reviews
T.H White′s masterful retelling of the Arthurian legend is an abiding classic. Here all five volumes that make up the story are published in one volume, as White himself always wished. Exquisite comedy offsets the tragedy of Arthur′s personal doom as White brings to life the major British epic of all time with brilliance, grandeur, warmth and charm.
Mass Market Paperback, 639 pages
Published June 15th 1987 by Ace (first published 1958)
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Stven Subhashini, they are similar in that they have the same cast of characters and a lot of the same events and plot. The difference is that The Once and …moreSubhashini, they are similar in that they have the same cast of characters and a lot of the same events and plot. The difference is that The Once and Future King makes a modern novel of those distant times. It's delightfully written and should please anyone who likes 20th century English fiction. Although the story as a whole is written for adults, the first part is about Arthur's childhood, before he learned he would be King, and some of the tutoring he had from Merlin. The level of the language and extent of description puts it beyond the patience of most pre-teeners, but a teenager would most likely enjoy it, as indeed would any adult. Highly recommended.(less)
Daniela If you are familiar with the King Arthur legends, I think you could start with book 3. Each book has a beginning and an end, they are different chapte…moreIf you are familiar with the King Arthur legends, I think you could start with book 3. Each book has a beginning and an end, they are different chapters of King Arthur's life and can be read separately, however, it is well worth reading all. (less)
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Corinne Edwards
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 month
Daniel B.
Sep 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It's a classic for a reason. Wonderful story. Great characters. Clearly bar raising for its time. ...more
Seriously, how do you review the pinnacle of all fantasy? You can argue with me, but that, in my opinion, is what The Once and Future King is. Sure, the evil enchantresses are stout and grumpy, the magical castles are made out of food, the lily maids are fat and of a certain age, and the knights in shining armor refer to one another as ‘old chap’s. Oh and did I mention that King Arthur’s nickname is ‘the Wart’?
Somehow, T.H. White takes the legend, undresses it, and gives it a new kind of dignit
I have owned the copy of this book I just finished since 1997!

I originally got it for a school project and only finished the first part of it (Oops!).

Now, years later, I read it as part of a Goodreads book club that focuses of reading books on “Must Read” lists. I am glad I had the extra motivation, or it may have been another 20+ years before I would have finally completed it!

I see many sing the praises of this book. It is a classic novel of Arthurian legend that many swear by. When looking at
In case anyone is wondering: I picked this book up for a re-read because of one throwaway line in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal . I haven't read this since high school, but I remember loving it almost giddily as a tween.

Since it's a big monster of a book, I took a steak knife to it, as I often do, and cut it in half so I could carry it about and read it on the subway without breaking my back. Here's the new cover I put on my DIY'd "vol 2," from Vice magazine. I find it creepy & rathe
Aug 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
“They made me see that the world was beautiful if you were beautiful, and that you couldn't get unless you gave. And you had to give without wanting to get.”
― T.H. White, The Once and Future King


I loved it and my two brats (11 & 13) absolutely enjoyed it, even if many of the jokes, the funky anachronistic blending of the Medieval with the Modern, might have floated a bit over their tiny wee heads.

Anyway, I think White perfectly captured the magic, power, fears and the joy of both youth and myt
Jan 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I carried a quote from this book around in my purse for decades. In my original version of the book, it is on page 111 and begins, "The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour t ...more
3.5 Stars

Way back when, I took a college class in Arthurian literature. This book was not included in the course which had us read just about everything else written about the legendary king. By the end of the semester I was sick of King Arthur, the round table, the Holy Grail and knights in general; as a consequence, I didn’t bother reading this book until now. Before I finally picked it up I assumed it would be something like Camelot (a crappy musical); I heard Lerner and Lowe based the music
Jonathan Terrington

A complex and multi-tiered depiction of the epic Arthurian legend. This book is unlike any other I've read either focusing on the myth or simply in terms of fantasy writing.

While the story begins with The Sword in the Stone, a novel I had already read years ago it was refreshing to re-familiarize myself with T.H. White's eccentric and unique style of portraying the character of King Arthur as a child. In fact I believe The Sword in the Stone is the deepest depiction of the childhood Arthur I ha
Spencer Orey
Feb 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The writing here is stunning. There are some rougher edges that I forgot about (some sudden and ROUGH racism), but overall for a book this old, it's remarkable how fresh everything still reads. I laughed and cried. I know I'll be reading this one again and again. ...more
From Geoffrey of Monmouth (1*) to Thomas Malory (2*) to Alfred Lord Tennyson (3*) to T.H. White (4*) to Lerner & Lowe (5*) ...

1* Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), 1130s.
2* La Morte d'Arthur, 1485
3* Idylls of the King, 1859-85
4* The Once and Future King, 1938-41
5* Camelot, 1960 Broadway!! The big time!!!

1) See here for the association of the musical Camelot with the Kennedy Administration.

2) Here's an extended quote from the first page of the book, to indicate the
Aug 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-reviews, favorites
Five stars? All the stars! This is the best book I have ever read. My other 5-star-ratings pale in comparison to this big wonder of a book. My Goodreads-rating system needs revision. Hors categorie.

A fantasy classic? It's so much more than that. It's about everything that matters in life, told in the warm voice of a brilliant and gifted author. He has struck a chord within me that will keep on trembling forever.

Humor, adventure, suspense, tragedy, poetry, romance, philosophy, history, faith, so
Mar 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
The Once and Future King was recommended to me on Reddit as probably the best Arthurian fantasy book extant. I have read Stephen R. Lawhead's The Pendragon Cycle and Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon and - if my memory serves me correctly – did not care for either of them. I am still interested in the Arthurian saga though so I proceeded accordingly.

The Once and Future King is divided into four parts, the first three previously published as separate books. The four parts are:

• The Swor
T.H. White’s Arthurian opus, The Once and Future King, is probably as influential on the modern fantasy genre as The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, yet has been overshadowed in the mainstream by its two major adaptations: Disney’s animated feature The Sword in the Stone (1963), which is based almost exclusively on the first quarter of the book, and the Broadway musical Camelot (stage debut 1960, film 1967) which is based on the last half. To adapt White’s whole book, and do it j ...more
Cornelia Funke
Jul 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The ONE book I'd take to the island. I would chop off a finger to have written this book! ...more
Jan 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoys adventure, romance, history, or fantasy
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 ar
Mar 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Spoiler alert, I guess. But not really. It’s been 600 years.

I love this book so much, you guys. I feel like I can’t even articulate it. It is possibly my new favorite book.

The Once and Future King is a book about nostalgia, though not in the typical sense. It’s hazy and dreamy and romantic, and it has some of the loveliest prose you’re going to find anywhere, but it’s not about the idealization of the past. If anything, it can be read as an examination of its failure: all throughout the book,
A curious book. The Once and Future King is at the same time a very classical and completely unique retelling of the Arthurian legend, but it unfortunately falls short of almost all the others.

On one side it's an interesting attempt at reforging the legend to something not quite set in time and place, and a fascinating mix of Medieval English myths. On the other there are many aspects of the style that ranged from slightly annoying to deeply flawed.

Firstly, the book is written too much like a fa
Mar 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fantasy fans (especially of Arthurian fantasy)
Shelves: fantasy
Note, March 15, 2020: I'm pretty much offline at the moment due to an extended family visit; but I just took a moment to edit this review by correcting two typos.

As the above description notes, this collection (it includes The Sword in the Stone, The Witch in the Wood, and The Ill-Made Knight, plus, I believe, some additional material) is "different" in it's approach to the Arthurian legend; but whether it represents "the modern" view of Arthur is dubious --White's view is pretty much unique. (I
Travis French
Jul 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: All
Recommended to Travis by: Xavier & Magneto
Just last week I finished one of the greatest books I have ever read. The Once & Future King by T.H. White.

I had never heard of the book until it was mentioned in Bryan Singer's X-Men movies. Xavier talks about it with his students and Magneto can be seen reading it while in his plastic prison. Because all great works of art are connected I had to read the book. I didn't even know it was about King Arthur and his knights until I found it on

Like most people I was familiar with the cha
An incredibly ambitious, deeply complex work, filled with moments of silliness paired with moments of sorrow, and everything in between, and fueled by an enormously generous and grievously pained heart. I admire T.H. White’s effort to grapple with huge, unwieldy questions of justice and the inexorable weight of history, and I enjoy his ability to infuse his writing with wit and verve. There were times when I wanted some moments to be more vividly brought to life than he seemed willing to do, for ...more
Tom Quinn
May 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The Sword in the Stone: an indisputable classic of children's literature and a book I very much look forward to sharing with my kids when they reach a certain age (12ish or thereabouts, probably). As a child, I loved it for its rollicking action and imaginative fancy. As a college student, I loved it for its subversive anti-authoritarian message. As an adult, I love it for its heart. It's a charming, funny, exciting, stirring book for readers of all ages which has great staying power and sets de ...more
Cindy Rollins
Jun 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Confession: I had assigned this to 6 of my children to read but had never read it myself. Now I am thinking perhaps it should be read a little later than 7th grade. I am not sure a seventh grader can grasp the glory of it.

What a book or maybe I should say what five books!! The Sword in the Stone: Delightful. The Queen of Air and Darkness: Delightfully dreadful. The Ill-Made Knight: Tragically wonderful. The Candle in the Wind: Toweringly beautiful. The Book of Merlin: Ridiculously thoughtful.

Jan 14, 2012 rated it did not like it
I got to page 377 before I resigned to the fact I wasn't enjoying this book and only read a couple of chapters a day after that.

There is so much wrong with this book I cannot understand why it is so popular.

Firstly there is virtually no action, adventures or quests that you would expect from a King Arthur book. It plods along painfully slowly with little or nothing going on for pages and pages at a time. Every thing is described in huge detail, even really mundane activities that are going on t
Allison Hurd
Listened to the audiobook this time, which is not as neat nor as concise as the written form, but which tears my heart out all the same. Every time I read it it feels meaningful in some way. Every time I find someone who is willing and able to meet me in my joy and my sorrow, and offer me insight as well as companionship. The narrator was excellent, and I have to go be sad for awhile now.


This is my all time favorite book. I've read it countless times since I was first recommended it i
I knew enough about the King Arthur mythology through cinematic adaptations I've seen growing up, but this is the first time that I ever read a novel about this legendary hero, and I thought T.H White's classic masterpiece The Once and Future King is the best place to start as any, considering the raving reviews I've encountered about this one every time I browse the medieval literature section in book-related websites. I was also drawn to this book because of this quotation taken from it: 'P ...more
Liz Janet
Oct 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"But Arthur’s grave is nowhere seen, whence antiquity of fables still claims that he will return." - William of Malmesbury

He shall return... “If people reach perfection they vanish, you know.”

Alongside.... “We cannot build the future by avenging the past.”

And..... "Further back, there were times when we wondered with all our souls what the world was, what love was, what we were ourselves.”

And... “Now, in their love, which was stronger, there were the seeds of hatred and fea
Jan 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Where I got the book: on bookshelf. Wasabi's, to be exact.

This is a sad, sad, sad, sad book. And also very funny. The first book is the funniest, and then they get sadder. It's like White took the Malory Morte d'Arthur and sucked all the silly stuff out of it so what's left is the essence of the Arthur legend in all its tragedy and glory.

And it was written at a horribly sad time. After two World Wars, things weren't looking too bright around Europe and that outlook colors EVERYTHING that was wri
Aug 05, 2008 rated it liked it
I really didn't get what I expected out of this book, which I always thought was a serious retelling of the King Arthur legend. I mean, it is that. Eventually. But it's strangely paced and the work's tone follows this odd arc across its four books that put me off.

The first book, "The Sword in the Stone," follows Arthur's childhood, and it's dippy, whimsical, and laden with fantasy. It is, in fact, not too far from the Disney cartoon adaptation of the same name. Arthur has all kinds of adventures
Jun 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: humans.
My favorite book in the universe. Decisively not for everyone, it is rambling, preachy, occasionally tedious, and always outrageously British. Much of it consists of a cranky Englishman going on and on about whatever happens to pop into his head, whether it be the intricacies of jousting or lamentations on the current state of film industry (yeah, what?). Many will find it insufferably pretentious. Which it is! But it is also hilarious, and sad, and it contains everything that is good about life ...more
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Born in Bombay to English parents, Terence Hanbury White was educated at Cambridge and taught for some time at Stowe before deciding to write full-time. White moved to Ireland in 1939 as a conscientious objector to WWII, and lived out his years there. White is best known for his sequence of Arthurian novels, The Once and Future King, first published together in 1958.

Other books in the series

The Once and Future King (5 books)
  • The Sword in the Stone (The Once and Future King, #1)
  • The Witch in the Wood (The Once and Future King, #2)
  • The Ill-Made Knight (The Once and Future King, #3)
  • The Candle in the Wind (The Once and Future King, #4)
  • The Book of Merlyn (The Once and Future King, #5)

Articles featuring this book

Dragons, demons, kings, queens, and the occasional farm boy (with a special destiny, of course): Fantasy literature has it all! To celebrate...
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“The bravest people are the ones who don’t mind looking like cowards.” 3992 likes
“The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one 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 only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” 3525 likes
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