Caroline's Reviews > The Sword in the Stone

The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White
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May 25, 2011

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bookshelves: genre-fantasy, setting-medieval-england, 1st-in-a-series, reviewed

I do not know whether or not I liked The Sword in the Stone. For that matter, I'm not quite sure I like the entire Arthurian canon. On the one hand there are duels, quests, lady fairs, and chivalric adventure. On the other hand there is the detestable Guinevere, despicable Lancelot, and eye-rollingly tragic ending. In any case, The Sword in the Stone happens before everything went gloomy, so I thought I'd give it a try.

The Sword in the Stone, part one of The Once and Future King, is a novella concerning the education of a young Arthur, growing up with kindly Sir Ector. The plot is episodic in nature, as Merlin tutors the future king by turning into various kinds of animals. There is also a boar fight, and an adventure with Robin Wood (not Hood).

The characters are decent, if a bit stereotyped, and serve the story well. Merlin is, like Willy Wonka, an eccentric kook. He exists mainly to crack jokes about the future and whisk young Wart away on fantastical adventures. Wart is curious, polite, helpful, deferential young boy, much like those "Gee Whiz" kids on Mr. Wizard, and about as interesting.

Kay is slightly more realistic. He is something of a bully, but not really a bad sort - just insecure and spoiled. He likes to tease and disparage his foster brother, but deep down is quite fond of him. Sir Ector is a caricature of an illiterate, good-hearted country squire. He blusters on about his boys' "eddication," and has never been to London, yet is a generous host, good father, and takes care of his peasants (Incidentally, feudalism is grossly romanticized, just in case you are bothered by that sort of thing).

My personal favorite was Robin Wood (not Hood), but then, I'm partial to him anyway.

The Sword in the Stone is set in a mishmash of the post-Norman era, fairy tale land, and eighteenth century Britain. Sir Ector lives next to the Forest Sauvage, which contains dragons, fairies, and witches. Then again, there are also references to Saxon rebels, 1066, and the Tower of London. This is not meant as a serious Arthurian tale.

The narration is half joking and half whimsical. As the jacket says, it is a story of "beasts who talk and men who fly." It also contains pot-shots at communism. The language is decidedly contemporary and the humor very British.

Though not exactly to my taste, The Sword in the Stone is a decent book and should please certain audiences.
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