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The Once and Future King
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New School Classics- 1900-1999 > The Once and Future King - SPOILERS - Entire Book

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message 1: by Pink (new)

Pink | 6554 comments This thread is for a full discussion of our 3rd Quarter 2018 Group Long Read selection, The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Discuss any spoilers in this thread.


Luffy (monkey-d-luffy) | 446 comments I read it some years back. i remember the austerity of the book, and the lack of thrills, but little else.


BAM the enigma I finished early. I was engrossed by the typical Round Table stories, but the Merlin parts I could have done without.


Michele | 1012 comments Fun stuff! The part I remember most vividly is when he spends the night in the mews with the hawks.


message 5: by Ian (last edited Jul 11, 2018 08:15AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 390 comments Michele wrote: "Fun stuff! The part I remember most vividly is when he spends the night in the mews with the hawks."

I've been re-reading that chapter, very slowly. I thought I remembered it pretty well, but, with the help of the Camelot Project's T.H. White Glossary (http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/te...), I've been realizing how densely literary that section is -- and also finding that the Glossary has major omissions on that score. (I submitted some suggestions to expand it.)

Does anyone have a copy of the original "Sword in the Stone" to compare? I don't remember if this one, like some other chapters, differed from the one in "Once and Future King." If so, we should probably discuss the changes on another thread of this discussion (I've just edited out a remotely possible spoiler from my initial comments.)

Edited to add: I had forgotten that I had deliberately selected the SPOILERS discussion thread when I edited my comment.


message 6: by Sam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sam (aramsamsam) | 318 comments This is maybe my favourite book series, and I am reading it again at a low pace. I'm halfway through book one now and it really struck me how unorganic the Robin Wood episode feels. From what I know, this was not part of the original publication, but how it got in there afterwards is a mystery to me: The whole aventiure is all over the place. It takes such a huge amount of explaining and exposition for a, in the end, very unsatisfying climax. And all that only so that Kay can have some action, poor boy. I really liked maid Marian in this, though, and that we see a lot more of her in action than Robin. I say this as a lifelong Robin Hood fan.

Did anyone else feel the Robin Wood episode was out of touch with the rest of The Sword in the Stone?


message 7: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 390 comments Sam wrote: "This is maybe my favourite book series, and I am reading it again at a low pace. I'm halfway through book one now and it really struck me how unorganic the Robin Wood episode feels. From what I kno..."

The episode doesn't seem well-integrated to me, either, but I'm not sure why this is so. There is every sign that White had reasons for including it, not least some passages of exposition, and some anticipations of later material which help link the larger narrative together.

From what I can recall of the original version of "The Sword in the Stone" (and it has been many years since I looked at a copy), the original form of the "Robin Wood" chapters (now 10, 11, and 12) was somewhat longer, with more material on the (elaborately anachronistic, and, in that incarnation, frankly racist) contents of Morgan's stronghold, but otherwise not all that different from the revision in the omnibus we are reading now.*

Maybe someone out there with a copy can report on this.

The chapters do pick up and use side-characters, like Wat and the Dog-boy, whose stories had been introduced, in passing, and left dangling. To that extent it is connected to the ongoing story -- although not so much that most readers would be concerned if those characters had not appeared. (It also provides a chance for some little jokes about Merlyn and pscyhoanalysis, and cosmetic surgery, which could have been omitted without much loss.)

In "The Once and Future King," at least, the episode has the function of introducing the reader to some of White's scrambled history of the British Isles, which turns on its head the whole medieval tradition of Arthur being a leader of the (native) Britons against the (invading) English ("Anglo-Saxons"). Instead, he is made part of a para-Norman dynasty founded by Uther "the Conqueror," also antagonistic to the (naturalized) English, but for the opposite reason.

To this extent, White seems to have known what he was doing, and been in control of the material.

But White also muddles, perhaps from ignorance, perhaps, judging from some comments, from contempt, the linguistic difference between the Britons, whose descendants speak/spoke Welsh, and the Irish and the Highland Scots, whose descendants speak/spoke Gaelic. In the larger context, this para-historical background is a link to "The Witch in the Wood" (1939), the immediate sequel to "The Sword in the Stone" (1938), which was drastically shortened as "The Queen of Air and Darkness" for "The Once and Future King."

But demonstrating that function should wait until we are discussing that book.

By the way, I agree about Maid Marian.

*I've discussed the original forms of publication of "The Once and Future King" on https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...
Messages 4 & 11


message 8: by Jehona (new)

Jehona | 182 comments I seem to be different from everybody who commented until now. I didn't really like it. Large parts of it are completely unrelated and unimportant. The whole parts with the Questing Beast and Robin Wood could have been cut.
And then there is Merlyn who is supposed to be living backwards from the 20th century, but at the same time lives forward with the characters of the story. He is messed up that way in order to serve as a vehicle for some philosophy parts that are completely out of place. I understand that he wanted to make a commentary on his time and world, but he should have written that in a different, more contemporary book or included it as part of the story by not using terms like communism and fascism. Also, there were many racist parts that had nothing to do with Arthur, that he introduced without needing to.


message 9: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 390 comments I think I understand your response to White, and you are on target concerning his racism/ ethnic stereotypes. It reached something of a high- (low-) point in "The Witch in the Wood," the immediate sequel to the original "The Sword in the Stone," although it is not quite so overt in its reworking as "The Queen of Air and Darkness."

And, yes, White's political reflections are indeed sometimes heavy-handed, in places where the analogies should be clear to an alert reader -- but some people need to have such things pointed out.

His habit of combining this, and other "serious" matters, between the same covers with rollicking comedy I too found it disconcerting on my first reading (all the way back in the 1960s -- so it must have been important enough for me that I still remember it).

As an opportunity for back-story, however, the Robin Wood chapter served to introduce in considerably more detail than before White's picture of the Arthurian Middle Ages as having nothing to do with British resistance to the Saxon invaders. (A matter in which he is determinedly, and scornfully, uninterested -- see Chapter 3 of "The Candle in the Wind"). Instead, in a kind of parallel history (an idea he doesn't really develop), he offers an alternate version of post-Norman England (e.g., "Uther the Conqueror"), so that a lot of Arthur's eventual subjects are distinctly English.

And in terms of technology (plate armor, etc.) it is conspicuously more like Malory's late Middle Ages than it is to the twelfth century to which Geoffrey of Monmouth had assimilated his "historical" Arthur, or to the mid-thirteenth-century Old French Prose Romances on which Malory is largely based. This probably escapes many readers, for whom the Middle Ages are an indistinguishable block of time.

The fantasy and science fiction writer Fritz Leiber, back in 1966, described White's way of working as "Controlled Anachronism," in which there is sometimes a shared complicity between author and reader in catching the joke, which goes right by the characters. And not just with Merlyn, and "living backwards" -- White tosses in things like the invented titles of "medieval" newspapers.

Again, a matter of taste.

The Questing Beast is directly from Malory, who it from *his* French source texts (hence White's use of "Beast Glatisant" alongside its English translation). It re-appeared in "The Witch in the Wood," and was retained, at some length, in "The Queen of Air and Darkness" in the collection, which is only about half the length of its original -- so White had every chance to cut it out. It is mentioned in "The Ill-Made Knight," as well.

Malory seems to have combined at least two versions of the Beast, or at least of who was hunting it, and White takes the opportunity to untangle the confusion. The Beast Glatisant's Arthurian credentials are impeccable, by the way. A version of the Beast appears briefly in one of the early thirteenth-century verse "Continuations" of Chretien de Troyes' "Perceval, or, The Story of the Grail," where it gets an allegorical signification, fairly quickly explained by a convenient hermit. (Near the end of "Gerbert's Continuation" -- available in The Complete Story of the Grail: Chretien de Troyes' Perceval and Its Continuations)

So White seems to have regarded the Questing Beast as an important link between the first two novels, from their first appearances onwards. Whether he was right to do so is, of course, a matter of personal opinion. As a matter of comedy, I find that it eventually becomes a bit tedious.


Kathleen | 4203 comments Just a very personal viewpoint, this is so much of a children's story for me, since I read it very young. At that young age, I enjoyed the questing beast and King Pellinore. Some of the sillier and more repetitive aspects drew me into the story then, and I'm grateful for that now.

For me now, more than childishness, there is a sweet naivete to the characters. This may be my nostalgia for the story talking, so I'll be curious to know if other readers experience that at all.


message 11: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 390 comments Kathleen wrote: "Just a very personal viewpoint, this is so much of a children's story for me, since I read it very young. At that young age, I enjoyed the questing beast and King Pellinore. .... For me now, more than childishness, there is a sweet naivete to the characters This may be my nostalgia for the story talking, so I'll be curious to know if other readers experience that at all. ...."

Like, I suspect, a great many other readers, you (we) are lucky that White took a hatchet to "The Witch in the Wood," cutting it down by half to produce "The Queen of Air and Darkness."

His friends and relatives thought that the first version contained a very unpleasant portrait of his mother, with whom he evidently did not get on at all well, and some, but not all, of this goes.

The revision still has some of his "comical" ethnic stereotyping, but not nearly as much.

When I eventually read it in a university library, I found it disturbingly out of line with the original version of "The Sword in the Stone," published the previous year, despite overlapping characters, and being another "childhood of the hero(es)" story. (Not that the "Queen" version isn't discordant, still.)

The editing and re-writing did delete some very funny, if insensitive, passages, however.


message 12: by ALLEN (last edited Jul 24, 2018 09:56AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

ALLEN | 623 comments Ian wrote: "Kathleen wrote: "Just a very personal viewpoint, this is so much of a children's story for me, since I read it very young. At that young age, I enjoyed the questing beast and King Pellinore. .... F..."

Ian, Kathleen, some years ago I read an article (or perhaps foreword). I don't remember who wrote it, but he averred that the mixture of childishness and cynicism that typified OaFK (especially THE SWORD IN THE STONE) came from the fact that White loathed modern warfare, but took a boy's glory in medieval battle.

Does this distinction make sense to you and other contributors here -- is there sense in it?


Kathleen | 4203 comments ALLEN wrote: "Ian wrote: "Kathleen wrote: "Just a very personal viewpoint, this is so much of a children's story for me, since I read it very young. At that young age, I enjoyed the questing beast and King Pelli..."

Yes! I love that explanation. Thank you Allen. That's why it feels so innocent. White must have seen these characters as if through his own childhood eyes. Wonderful.

Yes, it certainly makes sense to me. And there is truth that comes across in his cynicism--not just negativity.


message 14: by ALLEN (last edited Aug 07, 2018 12:13PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

ALLEN | 623 comments I'm back, to post an answer to a question posed today (7 August) at OaFK ("Read Along Third Quarter"). That thread doesn't allow spoilers, so here are the Question and my attempt at an Answer, moved here:

Newly wrote: ""I feel like I'm missing something. I'm at the part where the little boys murder the unicorn. no I'm not a vegetarian but this wasn't hunting. Why did they kill the unicorn? I get they wanted maternal attention but the dismemberment. . . "

In a mythological sense, killing a unicorn is the worst kind of slaying other than human murder, maybe worse than human murder in literary and psychological investigation. Even in the real world, killing or maiming a horse (as in the play EQUUS) is serious, serious business. In Western literature, horses symbolize our best selves in the physical, sexual and even spiritual realms (cf. "The Horse Whisperer.")

And wantonly killing a UNICORN -- that's far worse! That's because unicorns are horses with more spirituality and even magic all bundled into one astonishing bit of myth. In OaFK, it helps to remember that in Medieval England, magic and organized religion were not viewed as wholly distinct. That's why people in books like OaFK can talk about the Virgin Mary and forest fairies in one sentence and not feel foolish at all.

T.E. White is not at all subtle about the presumed future heir called "Sir Kay" in this book, THE SWORD IN THE STONE -- he's worthless. He killed a unicorn because he's an insecure adolescent, whose idea of leadership is bullying, not judgment. Killing the most sacred of all animals, worse in many ways than killing a man, is the most despicable thing to do. (It also suggests that the bully is insecure about his future sexual dominance, too, an insight not unknown to modern therapists -- (again, keep EQUUS in mind).

So anyone who would kill a unicorn just for sport or to show his alleged dominance is likely to be the worst kind of human being since unicorns represented (and still, to some extent, still represent) the best of humanity in its quest for spirituality/religion.
hardly human in fact. Consider Voldemort in one of the Harry Potter books who needed a unicorn's blood to go on living as Voldemort (and note as well that the whole forest grieved over the slaying of a unicorn).

So why the significance of killing a unicorn, now we can grasp the symbolism of destroying not only humanity but God's or Gaia's creation? It's no secret at this thread is about the moral and character development of young "[W]art(hur)" as he is assessed and assesses himself by the official contender to the thrown, the despicable Kay, unicorn-killer (I think it was Kay; if not it was one of his cronies, wasn't it?) (W)art is the main character in very much a man-in-formation kind of novel, even what the Germans would call a *Bildungsroman*. Kay during the SWORD AND STONE period is pretty much his antagonist; how can a tween model a teen if the teen himself gives such indication of being hopeless. So I hope my peroration helped you, Newly, and possibly showed not only what the unicorn-killing means but what it betokens.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Note to George, et al.: Don't be a stranger! As Katy, said, there's lots more liberty here.


message 15: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - added it

Katy (kathy_h) | 9888 comments Mod
Glad to see you over here again in the spoiler land. My favorite thread because I don't need to be careful of where I am in the book when I am ready to discuss.


ALLEN | 623 comments Katy, your steering was well-timed and wise.

I must make a mental note, since the standard OaFK consists of at least four books, that I should specify which book the 3rd quarter thread is on at the moment. (I wonder how many people there are fairly new -- and might not know that "3rd qtr" means third quarter of 2018, not third of fourth volumes in the tetralogy?

G'day and thanks again - a.s.


George P. | 582 comments ALLEN wrote: "I'm back, to post an answer to a question posed today (7 August) at OaFK ("Read Along Third Quarter"). That thread doesn't allow spoilers, so here are the Question and my attempt at an Answer, move..."

The discussion of killing the unicorn brings to my mind that here in the western US in frontier days, stealing horses was considered to be a crime only slightly below murder, and worse than cattle-rustling, and was sometimes punished by hanging. For cowboys and ranchers horses were essential for their work and livelihood of course.


message 18: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - added it

Katy (kathy_h) | 9888 comments Mod
I still have several friends where horses are still essential. It's lovely living in the west.


message 19: by Ian (last edited Aug 11, 2018 02:41PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 390 comments ALLEN wrote: "I'm back, to post an answer to a question posed today (7 August) at OaFK ("Read Along Third Quarter"). That thread doesn't allow spoilers, so here are the Question and my attempt at an Answer, move..."

I've been spending the day in air conditioning, well away from my computer, and have been following this silently, on my smartphone: if Southern California weather abates a bit tomorrow I may have the time and energy for a longer response.

It is Gawain and his (here almost indistinguishable) brothers, the sons of Morgause (Arthur's sister), who kill the unicorn. They are emulating, more successfully, the (quite muddle-headed) endeavors of the adults currently in their lives (their mother, King Pellinore, Sir Grummor, and Sir Palomides}, but they have no clear idea what to do with a dead animal once they've killed it.

It is a mirror-image of the "correct" hunting scenes in "The Sword in the Stone," and shows how poorly (for aristocrats) they were brought up, all of which provides background to some of the disasters in "Candle in the Wind."

Kay killed another mythological beast, a griffin -- a dangerous predator which was attacking him, and which he killed mostly by luck. And, fortunately, Robin was around to know what to do with it once it was dead.

I plan to have something more to say about unicorns and how to hunt them tomorrow (if the heat doesn't drive me away from my apartment, of course). And their somewhat conflicted symbolisms. With references, of course.

As for horses, during the Middle Ages a well-trained war-horse was a substantial investment, and they got more expensive as they had to be bred bigger to cope with the increasing weight of armor. Aristocrats tended to get upset when horses on the opposing side were killed, as by arrows, as they were valuable captures (even if some nobles mumbled about honor and base-born archers...). In some of the romances, directly attacking an opponent's horse is sometimes un-chivalrous, in the fairly literal sense of the sort of thing a proper chevalier -- a horse-rider -- isn't expected to do.

It took a long time for the now-familiar plow-horse to replace plow-oxen in medieval and early modern Europe, even after the invention of an efficient horse-collar, possibly due to the resistance of plowmen (for complicated reasons I'll go into separately). In any case, horses retained a sort of upper-class association in Europe for a very long time, even as they became part of the muscle power driving cities.

As the French historian Fernand Braudel pointed out, it was in the Americas -- especially the North American plains and the Argentine Pampas -- that the horse became an absolutely essential feature of daily life for much of a European-derived population. (Old World horse nomads, and Plains Indians, are different stories.)


message 20: by ALLEN (last edited Aug 07, 2018 08:21PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

ALLEN | 623 comments In the predominantly rural area in which I grew up, an economic and social craze for Arabians (the pretty horses, the fast ones that race) swept through about 25 years ago. Breeding them was not so much an occupation of professional stud farmers but a kind of "gentleman's hobby" among locals and relocators who enjoyed the rural scene. I come from a mountain-and-valley system in southwestern Virginia where the climate is mild, the scenery is beautiful, and folks are -- let's call them tradition-minded.

Then, after a few years, the market crashed, probably from oversupply. Keeping Arabians is an almost inherently luxurious act in my area. Also, I can't think of any public or private racetracks in our area as opposed to, say, Central or Western Kentucky. I was kind of hoping that some of the survivors of the "horse crash" would turn to breeding dray horses or big guys like the Percherons but there is a much smaller market for them, although it is more steady. I am unsophisticated, but I think all horses are beautiful.

Meanwhile, the farmers, whose spreads have gotten larger but rarely of "Iowa" size, go on with farming the land and feeding the people. Motorization is here to stay, I fear. ;) - But isn't it glorious to read T.E. White's accounts of medieval horsemanship, not forgetting, of course, that their equine brethren are quite capable of going to war.

Ian, time permitting, I would love to hear why and how the plowmen (like Piers??) resisted the adoption of the more efficient horse-collar.


message 21: by Ian (last edited Aug 09, 2018 06:47AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 390 comments ALLEN wrote: "time permitting, I would love to hear why and how the plowmen (like Piers??) resisted the adoption of the more efficient horse-collar. ..."

This gets complicated: I've tried to boil it down, without details on the medieval systems for allocating land to be tilled. So I have rather simplified matters -- my apologies to those who know the subject, perhaps much, much better than I do, and may be aware of more recent studies I haven't seen.*

The horse-collar became available in the later Middle Ages, replacing yoke-like contraptions that could strangle a horse trying to pull anything heavy. (There were makeshifts to relieve some of the pressure on the windpipe, but none of them seem to have caught on).

This was one of a number of key changes in medieval Europe, in this case following on the adoption of the stirrup and heavy saddle, which had made the horse essential for warfare, which in turn promoted the breeding of horses in general: see, for a classic exposition in English, Lynn White's Medieval Technology and Social Change

It probably was soon observed that a team of horses now could cover about twice the distance of an ox-team in the same given amount of time, even while pulling the same heavy wheeled plow.

One of the big expenses of a medieval manor (or similar arrangement) was maintaining enough oxen to plow the available land in time to put in a crop. It took large teams of the animals to plow the collectively-managed open fields quickly enough.

With such a savings in time/distance covered, there would be fewer animals to sustain, thus offsetting some of the added expense of maintaining horses (e.g., by feeding them grain) rather than more-or-less undemanding oxen. Also, there might be fewer worries about getting the plowing and planting done in time.

Strangely, however, medieval estate management handbooks (yes, they had them in the Middle Ages) uniformly claim that there will be no savings in time if horses are used, so stick with the plow-oxen.

Was there an unrecognized problem with medieval horse-collars? If so, when was it fixed? And why did the problem seem to be restricted to plowing?

Eventually, one such document turned up that revealed that the problem was with *people,* not horses. This suggested a more satisfactory explanation.

In a typical medieval system, a lord's portion of the crop was not from a particular set of fields, or a fixed percentage of the harvest, but what could be harvested from land plowed in a certain amount of time. So long as that remained a fixed quantity, the peasants working the estate were stuck with it, and perhaps didn't much resent it -- it was just the way things were.

However, with a switch over to horses, it was possible to plow about twice as much land in the same time, and the lord's portion expanded accordingly, at the expense of the tenants' shares. Expanding the amount of available land to plow was rarely possible, except when valuable forest land was cleared, or the like, so there usually was no way for the tenants to make up the difference with more work in the same time.

Apparently, the plowmen's response, backed by their communities, was to plow a lot more slowly with their teams of horses than was really possible, wiping out the advantage to the lord who maintained the horses. So a day's plowing remained a day's plowing, despite the expensive new animals and advanced harness.

*I'll deal with unicorns, and the significance of hunting and killing them, when I finish assembling and re-reading some (partly contradictory) authorities.


message 22: by ALLEN (last edited Aug 08, 2018 02:10PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

ALLEN | 623 comments Wonderful explanation, Ian; I think you really put it together nicely. I am reminded that technology did not proceed in the way a glance from our contemporary background, looking back, might suggest.

Y'all may well know this, but one fun nugget I picked out of Barbara Tuchman's eminently readable A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (1978) is that Western Europe had a form of cataract surgery long before the invention of the chimney! And the invention and adoption of the chimney made a big impact on daily life, probably rivaling the adoption of the railroad steam engine and rwy networks in the mid-19th Century, or the adoption of the personal computer ca. 1980.

Ian, I appreciate the demurrer at top of your post, but if there's one thing I can't stand it's the credentials-bound "expert" who lacks erudition. If someone here takes after you in a manner that is brutal, arrogant or condescending, espcially for an honest mistake or omission, I intend to Flag his ass and will have no compunction doing so. You rock!


message 23: by Ian (last edited Aug 09, 2018 06:53AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 390 comments ALLEN wrote: "I appreciate the demurrer at top of your post, but if there's one thing I can't stand it's the credentials-bound "expert" who lacks erudition..."

Thanks.

Yes, the chimney example was something I encountered years before I saw it in Tuchman, in a UCLA Western Civilization class that had a distinct influence from Lynn White's "Medieval Technology..." and similar works. (White was a professor there, so it was rooting for the home team.)

A good deal later, I came upon an account of Renaissance France in which it was pointed out that some French travelers were shocked to find that the "backward" Germans actually kept their homes *warm* in winter, instead of wrapping themselves in furs and woolens, or clustering around the fire, like the "advanced" French.

The Germans (and some others) had a whole technology of wood-burning ceramic stoves that slowly radiated heat from trapped gases, which was not familiar to at least parts of France.

(The heating system may have been quite familiar in other parts -- cross-regional communication was slow in a largely land-locked country without a lot of navigable rivers, and "foreign" ideas were suspect. This was later alleviated by canals, well-made roads, and eventually railroads, variously sponsored by monarchs, by Napoleon I, by Napoleon III, and by the several republics. It may have taken World War I to finally break the hold of various regional dialects, which also inhibited transfers of "foreign" knowledge.)

Although there were some Roman precedents, the whole of this early-modern technology (still in use, with some adaptations) seems to have been a development of the chimney. For some technical details, see
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masonry...

(Unfortunately, I don't recall the name of the book in which I found this nugget.)

Now I'll get back to (a) avoiding the heat, and (b) summarizing relevant information about unicorns, and hunting.


message 24: by Ian (last edited Aug 11, 2018 05:57PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 390 comments For those who are interested:

On Hunting Unicorns, and Their Meanings, Part One.

I promised to say something about unicorns in an earlier post. This is an installment of a comment that has grown rather long in trying to include evidence (and some interesting anecdotes).

The first thing to consider about hunting unicorns is why. In the medieval mind, there was a practical reason for doing so (and not "just for the sport of it," as the vegetarian Elmer Fudd once told Bugs and Daffy).

The horn of the unicorn was believed to dispel poisons, including diseases. In fact, in the "natural history" of the bestiaries, the proper function of the benevolent unicorn was to purify water for other animals, by dipping its horn into a pool or stream from which venomous creatures, like snakes, had been drinking. This power made its horn -- the "alicorn," in period terms -- an extremely valuable commodity, both as medicine and as for protection against poisoning for the rich and powerful, who were worried about the safety of what they ate and drank.

What became the Royal Society (of London for Improving Natural Knowledge) once tried the experiment of grinding up a bit of "true" alicorn, making a circle of the powder, and putting a spider -- a creature believed to be just filled with venom -- inside the circle. The spider promptly ran out of it, without harm, thereby proving something about unicorns, or their alleged horns, or maybe just spiders.

It is likely that what the Society was dealing with was the tusk of a narwhal, a beautiful piece of ivory whose true origin then had yet to be (generally) recognized. This was possibly also the case of a horn Benvenuto Cellini was invited to set in a piece of goldwork -- so this was not just a nice story in books about the moral meanings concealed in natural history, but something that could be seen and handled.

The difficult thing about catching unicorns was that they were very fast, and very strong, and very fierce, and quite capable of outdistancing any pursuit, or fighting their way through groups of converging dogs and hunters. Pursuing them like stags was possible, but presumably futile.

They had one weakness, however. A unicorn was attracted to virgin girls, so much so that it would kneel down before one, put its head in her lap, and go to sleep. It could then be slain by the well-informed hunters.

This hunting technique apparently first shows up in literature in the encyclopedic "Etymologies" of Isidore of Seville (c. 560– 636), a key figure in early medieval intellectual life. As C.S. Lewis pointed out in "The Discarded Image," Isidore, although an Archbishop, completely fails to point out what was obvious to his successors in the Bestiaries, that this was also an allegory -- or a natural "Type" -- of the Incarnation and Crucifixion: and with the horn representing both the upright of the cross and Christ's saving power against the poison of Satan.

The allegorical tradition probably also got a boost from the use of the word in the Vulgate (Saint Jerome's Latin Bible), "Et exaltabitur sicut unicornis cornu meum" in Psalm 91:10-11 (KJV 92:9-10), which in a modernized text of the sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century (Catholic) Douay-Rheims translation runs "For behold thy enemies, O Lord, for behold thy enemies shall perish: and all the worker of iniquity shall be scattered. / But my horn shall be exalted like that of the unicorn: and my old age in plentiful mercy." (For the history of this whole translation, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douay%E... )

The animal in question was, in Hebrew, the re'em, probably a species of wild cattle: KJV seems to render it as "unicorn" in all of its appearances, although so far as I can tell, the Vulgate did so less frequently: unless digital searches are missing some, which is possible.

Even closer for Christological purposes is the end of the latter verse in KJV, "I shall be anointed with fresh oil," a reading adopted in most modern translations, including the Catholic "New American Bible." In a recent translation of the Greek Bible, the Septuagint, the verse is closer, "and my horn will be exalted like a unicorn's, and my old age with thick oil." There were a bunch of Latin Psalters circulating in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and I don't have access to most of them -- one or more them may have the "anointed with oil" reading. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_P... )

More later on the unicorn hunt in "The Queen of Air and Darkness," and what went wrong once Gawain and company actually caught one: and on unicorn hunting in medieval tapestries.

In the meantime, a standard text on unicorns has long (from 1930) been "The Lore of the Unicorn," by Odell Shepard. This is in print in a whole lot of editions available on Amazon (and presumably elsewhere), including Kindle versions: The pages for it are something of a mess, with the Kindle versions not going with the hardcopies to which they are linked, as usual. Working with the Goodreads feed has been frustrating. An inexpensive edition is https://www.amazon.com/Lore-Unicorn-O...


message 25: by Ian (last edited Aug 10, 2018 09:26AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 390 comments Getting back to unicorns: we have now established why one would hunt a unicorn, and the proper procedure for doing so. So back to White (for the moment).

In "Witch in the Wood"/"Queen of Air and Darkness," Gawain and his brothers "luck out" in choosing a real virgin as bait for their unicorn -- King Pellinore et al. have been using their *mother* in the role, which suggests even more than usual muddle-headedness, or a general lack of seriousness on the part of the hunters.

Having caught and killed their unicorn -- a messy business as conducted by inexperienced hunters -- the brothers then face the problems of properly bleeding and cleaning the carcass before transporting it home, especially by removing the entrails. (This is, obviously, a rather gruesome task, at least for us who aren't experienced hunters, etc.). They bungle the process, puncturing the organs they were supposed to remove intact.

This removal of the viscera is, apparently, what is referred to by White as "the gralloch," a word that has been in use in English only since the mid-nineteenth century. (And yes, I had to use dictionaries to find that out, along with the meaning.) Somewhat ironically, the word is of Scottish Gaelic origin (the original is variously given in dictionaries as grealach and greallach). This in the face of White's insinuations about the incompetence of Gaels in just about everything. (White also got the ethnicity of the Orkney population all wrong, but that is a different, albeit related, matter Or maybe he was playing with alternate history, without notice.)

I'm not going to go into the messy details of gralloching, properly conducted -- a matter in which I have no competence, anyway -- but there is a web page which does, complete with useful illustrations: see
https://www.realtree.com/global-hunti...

As to any older equivalents of "gralloch," I have no idea what, say, the Old French term was, although I assume it existed -- it was too important a part of the ritualized hunting by aristocrats not to have a name. (This was the sort of knowledge that was traditionally attributed to Tristan, revealing his noble status.) The French word may have been borrowed into English, but of course I don't know where to look for it.

In Middle English texts I happen to know, however, it may just have been a specialized use of "break" -- see "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight", line 1333, "breaking the bowels," among a plethora of other terms for parts of the process -- although someone with access to an edition of SGGK with a glossary or annotations may be able to correct me on this. (Please do.)

In Modern English, "break" is applied to the whole business of dressing and cutting up a deer, which may be a problem for conscientious translators of this much-translated verse romance.

Next message, some famous unicorn tapestries (portions of which are frequently reproduced), and what they may mean.


message 26: by ALLEN (last edited Aug 10, 2018 11:12AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

ALLEN | 623 comments I'm waiting for the tapestries, Ian, and again bless you for your information. The point I'd like to add, however clumsily, is that unicorns were magical animals, but animals. They HAD internal organs, or guts.* They crapped manure, not dessert. As far as I know, they were generally portrayed as off-white in color eta: or piebald (you may yet show us otherwise in the tapestries), but they were not the colors of the rainbow.
_________
* (Consideration of analogy to Christ's body and spiritual essence must wait, for now.)

Medieval man, even the royalty, were never too removed from the sweat and the stink of the farm and farm animals. Any of you who have seen the play or movie THE LION IN WINTER (1968) with Katharine Hepburn, Peter O'Toole and Anthony Hopkins, will see that the witty and justly celebrated film permitted a little of that filth even inside the Plantagenet castle, unlike, say, studio epics like Warners' ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD starring Errol Flynn (1938), in which people at the top managed to feast on roast fowl with their fingers and never show grease or begrime the tablecloth.


message 27: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 390 comments ALLEN wrote: "studio epics like Warners' ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD starring Errol Flynn (1938), in which people at the top managed to feast on roast fowl with their fingers and never show grease or begrime the tablecloth...."

Making a mess while eating was certainly a problem recognized at the time, including those isssues involving using one's hands, even if some of the solution had to wait for the invention of forks, instead of just knives and spoons.

I recently read through the Kindle edition of The Complete Story of the Grail: Chretien de Troyes' Perceval and Its Continuations, and found, rather to my surprise, an almost obsessive emphasis from some of the four post-Chretien poets that everyone in the latest noble household the hero visits washed their hands before dining, water being brought especially for that purpose, that clean linen was put on the tables, and that it was quickly cleared away when the food was finished. It is sometimes specified that they washed their hands after dining, as well.

This is certainly an assertion of upper-class luxury in the twelfth or early thirteenth century, but the table manners of the Middle Ages were *sometimes* better than we have been conditioned to expect.

The same is true of somewhat later times. The famous chicken-eating scene in "Private Life of Henry VIII" gave Charles Laughton the chance to be a memorably mannerless glutton, but had nothing much to do with Tudor court etiquette. (The very late Henry VIII, who may have suffered brain damage in a jousting accident, and then put on weight very rapidly, may have behaved in some such manner, but if so no one was willing to take the risk of mentioning it.)

There is (or was) a floating list of examples of table (and other) behavior often said in popular history to be typical of the period, which seems to have come from written orders by then Prince Henry to his personal household on how they were NOT to conduct themselves at meals (and elsewhere). Manners existed, even if people needed to be reminded of them.

The Chinese and some of their neighbors also found a way to avoid using their hands to put food in their mouths, but Braudel (if I recall correctly where I found it) pointed out that the chopsticks solution, developed from pointed sticks to skewer bits of food, began almost as an anticipation of the Western pronged fork, and found its own way.


ALLEN | 623 comments The movie of THE LION in winter did now show people eating messily, though the inside of the castle did indeed have dogs wandering hither and yon, and some dirt on the floors (not dog dirt, i hasten to say).

Maybe a little mess would have been better. We see Henry eating something with his hands from a large plate. The food must have been relatively dry because it didn't seem to stick to his fingers. But what was it? It looked like beige dressing (stuffing) but due to the lack of sloppiness we had no idea. Maybe some pale-colored movie food to indicate eating without getting dirty? But yes, the highborn of that era used spoons, and napkins and knives (being domesti-cated daggers, I guess) but the fork, not yet.

"It's 1183, and we're all barbarians." - A line from the show.


Kathleen | 4203 comments Allen, The Lion in Winter is one of my favorite movies. I love that line. I love Peter O'Toole. I love Katharine Hepburn. I love everything about it, even the theme music.

Just a quick question--don't want to spend too much time off topic of TOFK. :-) Have you read the book? The movie is so perfect, but I'd like to try the book sometime.


message 30: by ALLEN (last edited Aug 11, 2018 08:23AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

ALLEN | 623 comments THE LION IN WINTER is based on a successful Broadway play from 1966 (remember when NYC's "Broadway" district produced more non-musicals than musicals)?

Let me see if it's still in print @Samuel French or someone like that:
...
We're in luck! Whether it's because the stage play has "legs" or the movie has classic status (perhaps a bit of both), Random House actually brought out the script in pbk not too long ago: Here it is at B&N at the retail price of $14.00:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-...

Personally, I doubt the sexy cover. Henry was 50 years old and Alais 23. I have no reason to believe the theme of the play is that different from the theme of the movie, which you'll recall is much more 'One Man's Family' via KING LEAR than 'Plantagenets in Love' via Feydeau, though one funny scene does exploit the "hiding in the same room" motif. Happy reading to those who take the plunge. It must be great to see all those zingers, so quotable, right on the printed page.

"I suppose every family has its ups and downs" - (again, Hepburn).

I commend the interested to the Wikipedia article about THE LION IN WINTER. It contains such nuggets as the fact that a young Christopher Walken was in the original cast, and the FOX tv drama EMPIRE was consciously patterned after the play/movie.


ALLEN | 623 comments As a way of transitioning from TLiW to OaFK, I recall that the movie based on the former source showed a roaring fire in a fireplace, and a Christmas tree and presents.

Ian and others, I wonder how many of these anachronisms are allowed in modern historical novels and movies? The fireplace (flue, damper, chimney, hearth) lay well over 100 years in the future from 1183, and I doubt even the richest Angevins would have a Germanic Christmas tree.

We've talked a bit about the anachronisms T.E. White employs in OaFK, but from what I recall they were more winky in-jokes than mistakes or "stretchers" designed to make the modern audience feel more comfortable, as though the end of the "Dark Ages" had the same technology and comforts as the High Middle Ages.

But I am woefully underinformed in all this . . .


message 32: by Ian (last edited Aug 11, 2018 11:34AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 390 comments ALLEN wrote: "As a way of transitioning from TLiW to OaFK, I recall that the movie based on the former source showed a roaring fire in a fireplace, and a Christmas tree and presents.

Ian and others, I wonder ho..."


My own tolerance for easily-avoided anachronisms in historical novels (like those identifiable from well-known popular histories) is pretty low, but I probably miss some on what what for me are more abstruse areas.

As a general observation, publishers, or their editors, don't seem interested in making sure that their authors even know what they are talking about. I gave up on one interesting-looking novel about the Thirty Years' War of the seventeenth-century when I found the characters using modern nomenclature, like "hydrogen cyanide"! Even the term "hydrogen" had yet to be coined......

(Although I suppose that example might have been interpolated by a copy editor, rather than the author, to make sure the reader knew they were talking about poisons.)

I am more surprised by films getting something right than I am by what they get wrong.

White is engaging in what a modern science fiction or (more likely) fantasy writer would treat as an alternate history, or parallel world, as laid out pretty clearly in "Candle in the Wind," chapter 3 (which I won't quote directly, since most of us probably haven't reached it yet).

He has placed *his* Arthur in the late Middle Ages (roughly during the time of the historical Wars of the Roses), and made him a sort of Norman, rather than a fifth-century Romanized Briton resisting the Anglo-Saxons.

The latter idea has produced a lot of interesting speculation, and quite a bit of good fiction, including Sutcliffe's "Sword at Sunset," and is backed up by the implied chronology of Gildas, our only direct source on Britain at the time (albeit a pretty miserable one), who never does get around to mentioning an Arthur by name.

In fact, White is quite hostile to that whole idea of a "real" Arthur with a place in "Dark Age" history, the hero of the later Welsh, Cornish, and Bretons, and is rather contemptuous of the Britons in general. (Whom he sometimes seems to muddle with the Gaels of Ireland and Highland Scotland, who spoke a different, albeit related, language.)

Because of this decision on White's part, one can't complain much about plate armor, and other anachronisms (compared to either an historical Arthur or to the mail-wearing Arthur of the twelfth-century romances), such as falconry (although this was known to the Anglo-Saxons as early as the ninth century, if not before). Such differences from reality are part of the background, rather than a joke shared with the reader.

Some deviations from history by White I just find annoying, however, since they don't necessarily follow from his premise.

For example, White makes the Orkney Islands Gaelic-speaking, although in the fifteenth century the inhabitants spoke Norn, a relative of Icelandic, descended from the language of their Viking ancestors, and the islands belonged to Denmark -- see the Wikipedia article for this, and for how the islands became a Scottish possession: also for the report that their modern language is a form of Lowlands Scots, not Scottish Gaelic.

(The Norwegian roots of the historically dominant population of the Orkneys are celebrated, and somewhat mythologized, in a medieval Icelandic history, Orkneyinga Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney )

Still, White was at least aware that things 1000 A.D. were not the same as in 500 A.D., and that neither were much like 1500, which is at least a step in the right direction.


ALLEN | 623 comments I recall reading that when Elizabeth I took the throne, her subjects spoke about a dozen different languages, one of them Faroese.


message 34: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 390 comments ALLEN wrote: "I recall reading that when Elizabeth I took the throne, her subjects spoke about a dozen different languages, one of them Faroese."

Elizabeth I's subjects (willing or otherwise) certainly spoke English (in several regional varieties), Welsh, Cornish, Manx Gaelic, and Irish Gaelic, and French in the Channel Islands. I can't think of another off-hand, and some might argue against separating the two forms of Gaelic.

I suspect that a count of a dozen distinguished various English dialects, although I don't know of any particular Elizabethan complaints that they were mutually unintelligible, as found earlier. (Unless one counts Lowland Scots, whose speakers weren't part of her domains anyway.)

(I will admit protests over the use of the English Prayerbook in Henry VIII's time may have drawn in some people who found its strange, London-style, English to be no improvement on the familiar sounds of Latin -- I don't know enough about those movements. The switch to English was certainly resented by the Cornish and Welsh. According to the Wikipedia article on the Prayer Book Rebellion, English-speaking Devon joined in with Cornwall, although that might just point to Catholic loyalties: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_...)

The Faeroe (or just Faroe) Islands were then, as now, a Scandinavian possession, at the time part of Danish-ruled Norway. They passed to Denmark directly in 1814 (in a complicated manner I will leave to the Wikipedia article and its links to explain), and became a county of Denmark in 1816, apparently its current legal status (with a great deal of autonomy).


message 35: by ALLEN (last edited Aug 11, 2018 04:08PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

ALLEN | 623 comments Ian wrote: "ALLEN wrote: "I recall reading that when Elizabeth I took the throne, her subjects spoke about a dozen different languages, one of them Faroese."

Elizabeth I's subjects (willing or otherwise) cert..."


Well, LIza Pickard seldom has steered me wrong, so I guess I'll have to forgive her for the Faroese, and hope you will forgive me for passing her mis-statement on.

Ian, I suppose we have to head to the early 18th Century for "Heeland" and "Lolland" Scots to be incorporate into the whole of Great Britain?

Now, anything I've been told about the development of English as a language tells me that the Ur-myth of Arthur actually predates Christianity, and anything they spoke would have been just as incomprehensible to Shakespeare as to us. So common is our "modern" (speaking broadly) habit of substituting modern (if a touch deliberately archaic) English for proto-Arthurian that students aren't a bit put out when they purchase CANTERBURY TALES in mod. English only.


message 36: by Ian (last edited Aug 13, 2018 09:30AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 390 comments ALLEN wrote: "Ian, I suppose we have to head to the early 18th Century for "Heeland" and "Lolland" Scots to be incorporate into the whole of Great Britain?..."

Right. The Acts of Union of 1707 changed the Kingdoms of England and Scotland, with a joint monarch, into the Kingdom of Great Britain. This has always been controversial in Scotland..... And not just to those who rejected the Hanoverian dynasty in favor of the native Stuarts.

(Ireland was dragged into this new arrangement much later.)

Some of the Plantagenet kings tried to lay claim to overlordship of Scotland, a notion advanced by some Anglo-Saxon predecessors regarding part of the Lowlands, but it was the accession of James VI of Scotland to the throne of England as James I that really got the ball rolling. Scotland remained constitutionally, legislatively, and judicially, distinct, however, until Cromwell tried to unify them (and Ireland) under the Commonwealth, a task undone by the Restoration.

(A peculiar side-note. By some accounts, the Scots bitterly resented the imposition of English Common Law, but some of them came to admire the judges Cromwell appointed to enforce it. Apparently, with the Lord Protector watching them, they decided cases according to the evidence and the law as it had been established, without fear or favor regarding the parties involved. Which casts an interesting light on the trust placed in Scotland's native judiciary by some of its population....)

Some early Arthurian literature -- that in Welsh -- does suggest that Arthur, if he ever existed, attracted to himself stories left over from British paganism.

Or, alternatively, that he was a mythical character who attracted a bit of history. Exactly what kind of mythical figure has been debated by those who agree on this basic assumption.

There are tantalizing hints of really ancient myths and deities in "Culhwch and Olwen," a long story included in "The Mabinogion" -- although there probable British gods have to share the pages with what are clearly Irish heroes or demi-gods, probably borrowed by storytellers when both Wales and Ireland had long been Christian.

Any historical Arthur would have spoken an ancestor of modern Welsh (or a near relative -- any British dialect variation over pre-Anglo-Saxon Britain hasn't left much evidence), and perhaps some Latin.

(The standard scholarly work has long been Language and History in Early Britain. I don't know if there is a more recent replacement.)

If Arthur knew any language ancestral to English, he learned it as the language of an invading enemy. And the language of those early Angles, Saxons, and Jutes (and possibly some others) would have sounded rather strange to, say, the "Beowulf" poet, several hundred years later. (The actual date of "Beowulf" is now, as usual, a topic of debate.)

Malory skips right over the invading Saxons (i.e., English) part of the story, which does appear in earlier romances (sometimes confusing them with Saracens, among others), as well as in Geoffrey of Monmouth and the derivative "histories."

As a result, he leaves the reader to think of Arthur as already English, or at least as a ruler of England, with tributary countries. Malory seems to have tried to draw moral lessons about English instability, pertinent to the Wars of the Roses.

White, for whatever reasons seemed good to him, took off running with this assumption.


message 37: by ALLEN (last edited Aug 11, 2018 05:51PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

ALLEN | 623 comments I thought glossing over the invasions of several "Angle-ish" groups from what is now Scandinavia gave an incomplete picture, too.
Now, these were mentioned in my Brit Hist class, but despite the teacher's (a wonderful lady's) best intentions, we somehow got the feeling that "1066 and all that," non-ironically, was an adequate skeleton. Probably Southern White 'pride' as reflected in a conspicuously archaic textbook for the early 1970s.

I didn't learn about the etymology "North Men" ("Norse Men")/Norman and the contributions of Jutes, Danes, etal., until I took Germanic linguistics in grad school. Well, better later than not at all, I guess. As you can see, I'm rather muddled about "all that."

Why was Bede 'Venerable,' anyway? To me it's like saying "Old Mark Twain."


message 38: by ALLEN (last edited Aug 11, 2018 06:19PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

ALLEN | 623 comments Ian wrote: "ALLEN wrote: "Ian, I suppose we have to head to the early 18th Century for "Heeland" and "Lolland" Scots to be incorporate into the whole of Great Britain?..."

Right. The Acts of Union of 1707 cha..."


Well, if T.E. White wanted to completely ignore certain aspects of British historico-linguistic development, he was hardly alone. But he was so clever one must wonder if he ignored the less "standard" aspects because doing so was the norm, or because that itself was a meta-satire on the British foundation myth.

I admit he was that good -- but no less perplexing. It does not surprise me that even today, scholars and interested observers are still thrashing through White's "authorial intent" in crafting OaFK.

BTW I got a cheap deal on the Elizabeth Brewer discussion of OaFK: T.H. White's the Once and Future King, in undoubtedly deplorable condition but about one-seventh the current retail price, assuming seller really does have it.
It remains to be seen how long BWB "West" will take getting it to me, or should I say Ammy/Abe-BWB (West)??

T.H. White's the Once and Future King by Elisabeth Brewer


message 39: by Elizabeth A.G. (new)

Elizabeth A.G. | 66 comments Thank you Ian and Allen for your very erudite conversations. I am awed by the expanse of your knowledge and completely humbled by how limited mine is! As one not well versed in the Arthurian legends, would it be helpful to read Malory's reworking of these legends before tackling White's The Once and Future King or is White's work understandable without a good awareness of the legends themselves or of Malory's renderings? Can you offer some good book recommendations of the historical period for this novice reader to gain some background?


message 40: by ALLEN (last edited Aug 11, 2018 07:10PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

ALLEN | 623 comments @: Can you offer some good book recommendations of the historical period for this novice reader to gain some background?

Before Ian and others do that, I'd like to add a note about reading 'attitude': keep reading the SWORD IN THE STONE book, of course, since August will slip away all too quickly. When the reader raises the question, as s/he inevitably must, "Is White on the level?" my answer is Yes. And No. Think of it as a more sophisticated version of TV's SIMPSONS, with one 'carrier wave' aimed at kids and the other meant squarely for adults. For the kids, excitement (and by all acccounts, T.H. White was a "kid" as to the outdoor, horse-and-sword part of this epic). But for the adults, a sly satire.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

So my ultimate answer to the riddle of "Is this or is this not on the level," I have to say "Keep reading -- lots of fun involved for the whole family, and no small amount of cockeyed erudition, too. Also, you may never run into anything like this book again."
(I know I haven't.)

Now I believe the floor is open to recommendations of supplemental material . . .


message 41: by Ian (last edited Aug 12, 2018 07:59AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 390 comments Elizabeth A.G. wrote: "would it be helpful to read Malory's reworking of these legends before tackling White's The Once and Future King or is White's work understandable without a good awareness of the legends themselves or of Malory's renderings? Can you offer some good book recommendations of the historical period for this novice reader to gain some background? ..."

White is quite understandable without Malory. In places, knowing beforehand what Malory actually said about something may just be confusing, as White adds novelistic details that aren't in the text, and sometimes just misrepresents Malory. (The violent Pellinore of Caxton's Book I, chapter 24, and pretty much the whole of Book III, simply cannot be reconciled with White's version.)

The question might be posed whether Malory is not better understood without previous acquaintance with White...

There is no good introduction to "the historical period," since White invented his version of the Middle Ages, taking what he liked and throwing out the rest, with no clear principle behind what he was doing. It seems to correspond roughly to the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. (view spoiler)

Allen has already mentioned Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. This is a popular, but solidly researched, book, and might be helpful to you on many topics in "Once and Future King" (and well beyond White), as the latter part in particular overlaps the time to which White assimilated (for the most part), his Arthurian Britain.

As I have mentioned before, there is a substantial more-or-less scholarly literature (and a lot of modern fiction) on the possibility of an historical Arthur in the fifth century, a leader of British resistance to the Anglo-Saxon invaders. White rejected the whole idea, so it will be of no use to you in understanding his book. (The idea seems to be out of favor among serious scholars of the era, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is revived.)

For a good look at knighthood in the course of the whole Middle Ages, The Knight in History by Frances Gies seems pretty reliable: Gies, alone or with Joseph Gies, is the author of whole series of more-or-less popular histories of various aspects of medieval life.

If you are interested in a single volume covering the major parts of the Arthurian legends, including some out-of-the-way material NOT in Malory, and don't mind reading a book marketed for children, I would suggest Roger Lancelyn Green's "King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table."

Goodreads doesn't seem to know of the latest edition: see https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/014...

According to Amazon, it is pretty long (about 400 pages), but I remember it as much shorter. (Maybe they've re-set in a larger typeface -- the 1953 edition was in tiny print.)

This edition has a new introduction, but I don't know if it includes the original illustrations by Lotte Reiniger.


message 42: by ALLEN (last edited Aug 12, 2018 08:36AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

ALLEN | 623 comments You know, at the request of a friend eager to learn as much of English history as she can, I recently gave strong recommendations to two similar books that were meant to complement each other:

Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph Gies; and

book:Life in a Medieval Village|600625] by Frances Gies. I believe Joseph and Frances Gies were or are husband-and-wife.

There are a ton of books with the precise title "Life in a Medieval Castle," but the J. Gies version was the one assigned to me in college; I picked up MEDIEVAL VILLAGE later on. I think they're both fine, but with pride-of-place going to MEDIEVAL CASTLE.

What think you, Ian and others? - a.s.


message 43: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 390 comments ALLEN wrote: "You know, at the request of a friend eager to learn as much of English history as she can, I recently gave strong recommendations to two similar books that were meant to complement each other: ... What think you..[..."

I agree. The Gieses have written a number of excellent studies. One of my favorites takes us a good deal of the way from Arthur:
"Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel: Technology & Invention in the Middle Ages" (unfortunately, add book/author doesn't seem to work with this title.

With some hesitation, because of its date (1924), which means the bibliographic notes are sadly antiquated, and that some of the "facts" may be in doubt, I would suggest [book:Medieval People|963714] by Eileen Power. The main texts runs from a peasant in the time of Charlemagne to an English clothier in the time of Henry VII.

It was expanded with an introductory chapter in 1963: this material was from a draft the author was working on when she died in 1940. It is probably the most readily available form. (It also makes for confusion in citations and discussions, as the original chapter one became chapter two, and so on.)


message 44: by ALLEN (last edited Aug 12, 2018 11:30AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

ALLEN | 623 comments I'm trying to find the name and author of a book about late Medieval/early Renaissance city life in England (North) that I reviewed prior to Amageddon and lost record of . . .
Like your recommendations, Ian!

Now here's some sad news: One cannot spell OaFK without O-A-F. I have lost my copy of the mass-market pbk as portrayed above. (Yeah, I'm a dumbass.)
Any idea, good people, as to a cheap fill-in to cover me until Merlin gives my copy back?


message 45: by Ian (last edited Aug 14, 2018 08:09AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 390 comments Sorry to hear about the missing book -- that happens to me from time to time, just in a small apartment: I sometimes wind up moving furniture just to be sure it hasn't dropped behind something. Wish I had a more practical suggestion.

Since you like horses, you might find the following an interesting diversion.

"Combat Training for Horse and Rider in the Early Middle Ages," by Jürg Gassmann, in Acta Periodica Duellatorum, volume 6, issue 1

Academia.edu just fed me this new (2018) article on early medieval combat with horses, with a lot of details about the types of horses, and what they were good for, with lots of information on things like size and conformation. (It only goes about to about 1000, so it doesn't cover the period White was using as a basis, but a lot of it would apply.)

A lot of it looks new to me, so I either it wasn't current back when I was an undergraduate, and did my main reading in the subject, or it was, but I never encountered it, or I have forgotten it. (Most likely the latter for a lot of the details, I think.)

It can be found at https://www.academia.edu/37142083/Com...

It downloads as a pdf, so you can print it if you don't like reading on the screen.

NOTE TO OTHERS: I haven't mentioned Academia.edu on this thread before. Allen probably recognizes it from my messages elsewhere, but others out there might not.

It is a website for posting (mostly) scholarly papers, including dissertations otherwise unobtainable without visiting the university where it was written, and sometimes complete published books. You have to register to create an account, but it is free -- for the basic function. It *is* a commercial site, with some advertising, and it charges for advanced bells & whistles, like tracking mentions of a paper or book -- great for someone who needs tenure, of limited interest of us.

You need to provide a little information on what you are interested in to start off, and can choose to "follow" authors whose work you are interested in. There are often sidebars offering related articles. Most of the stuff is downloadable: some isn't, but is just an announcement that something has been published.

Once you have it running, it is like having access to a University Library which subscribes to (expensive) scholarly journals. I should warn that if you are really curious about a subject, a steady feed of mainly high quality material can get addicting.....


BAM the enigma This discussion was so enlightening. I was not that engrossed in OaFK. I enjoyed the Round Table portions, but lost interest in the rest of the book. I learned a lot. Thanks guys!


message 47: by Elizabeth A.G. (last edited Aug 12, 2018 08:46PM) (new)

Elizabeth A.G. | 66 comments ALLEN wrote: "You know, at the request of a friend eager to learn as much of English history as she can, I recently gave strong recommendations to two similar books that were meant to complement each other:

Ian wrote: "Elizabeth A.G. wrote: "would it be helpful to read Malory's reworking of these legends before tackling White's The Once and Future King or is White's work understandable without a good awareness of..."

Thanks for your recommendations, Allen and Ian -- I have been perusing my copy of The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade by Susan Wise Bauer but because this is a broad history, I have to hunt through the book to find the chapters relevant to my interest. I have intended to obtain A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. Realizing White's inventive rendering of the Middle Ages, now is the time to get Tuchman's book in order to get a clear picture of the "real" history. I'll also investigate the Gies books. I really don't want to make a too serious academic exercise of the history, as White's novel is after all to be enjoyed with its humor, anachronisms and satire. Thanks again.



message 48: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 390 comments ALLEN wrote: "Why was Bede 'Venerable,' anyway? To me it's like saying "Old Mark Twain..."

I forgot that I was going to answer this: better late than never.

The term is odd, mostly because it has lost its medieval context, in which lots of people could be called "venerable" (as used by Bede himself in his own writings). It seems to have become his fixed epithet by the ninth century, so it has a lot of precedent behind it.

"Venerable" here means "worthy of respect" (veneration) and was originally a favorable term for someone of religious note who was not (yet, anyway) regarded as a saint: a group of bishops might be described as "venerable men."

It later -- long after it had been assigned to Bede in particular in English and other traditions -- became a sort of rank of someone being considered for canonization.

Bede was, eventually, canonized, but from shortly after his death his relics were in a cathedral dedicated to St. Cuthbert, whose clergy didn't want competition for their patron, and there were some other problems, like overlapping Saint's Days, to create friction. He never became a figure of regular cult or pilgrimage.* There is a fairly good summary on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bede#Ve...

It references the Catholic Encyclopedia for a (not so very old) story that a monk, "composing an epitaph on Bede was at a loss to complete the line: Hac sunt in fossa Bedae . . . . ossa and [the] next morning found that the angels had filled the gap with the word venerabilis."

I strongly suspect that the retention of "Beda Venerabilis" by English writers after the Reformation was due to nervousness about "St. Bede" being too "Papist." Since Bede emphasized the dependence of the English Church on the initiative of a concerned Pope, this was probably a live issue when Anglo-Saxon studies were just getting off the ground in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

I think the Victorians just followed precedent during their big boom of interest in being "Anglo-Saxons." (Of course, Daniel Defoe had long before pointed out how many different nationalities had gone into making England, so that "A true-born Englishman’s a contradiction, / In speech an irony, in fact a fiction." But they managed not to listen.)

(For the whole of De Foe's funny, sometimes savage, poem, see https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem... )

A while back, I complained in at least one of my reviews of translations of Bede's "Ecclesiastical History"/"History of the English Church and People" that the nomenclature had baffled Amazon software (and people entering the information), producing names like "St. Bede the Venerable" (which is just redundant), and "Bede, St., the Venerable," which isn't quite English. And I think in a couple of cases he became a co-author with himself, as a result of having a a name with both a title and an epithet.

Your textbook may just have been keeping things simple (although not without ideological implications). For example, I have a friend who got considerably confused between "Jews" and "Jutes" when I tried to explain about Angles and Saxons, etc., and that the English were not always called English, and that people who could have been so called didn't always live in England. I eventually dropped the subject before she could absorb too much more mis-information.

By the way, it appears that "Englisc" and "Angeltheod" (i.e., Nation of the Angles, English people, England) were the eventually preferred native terms, in rivalry with "Seaxe" and "Seaxland." Originally these could, conveniently. have referred to the northern kingdoms (Anglia and Northumbria) as against the southern ones (Essex, Sussex, and Wessex), but this does not seem to have been the case.

The "Saxon" names may have fallen out of common use (in writing, anyway) about the time "Anglo-Saxones" came into use in Latin. This seems to have been intended to separate at first glance the good, Catholic, insular Saxons from the wicked, pagan, continental Saxons they were trying to convert, along with Charlemagne -- who seems to have been willing to solve the problem the other Saxons posed by killing as many of them as possible, instead.

*Well, no pilgrimages I know of until some Professors of English, and their graduate students, began to visit his grave-site, which isn't quite the same thing.


Vicki Cline BAM wrote: "This discussion was so enlightening. I was not that engrossed in OaFK. I enjoyed the Round Table portions, but lost interest in the rest of the book. I learned a lot. Thanks guys!"

I too have lost interest in the book, having forced myself to the mid-point, but I love the posts here by Ian and ALLEN. I've learned a lot, in fact more than I wanted about gutting a deer.


message 50: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - added it

Katy (kathy_h) | 9888 comments Mod
LOL.


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