Friday, August 19, 2016

The Once and Future King

Severe Spoilers Ahead

The Once and Future King is a take on the story of King Arthur written by T.H. White.

I love this book!  This is my favorite adaptation of the story and is second only to the original, Le Mort d'Arthur.  The characterization was close to flawless, the descriptions were vivid, the writing was melodic and easy to understand.

If I remember correctly, the book was about 700 pages and I read it in 24 hours!  I think that is the fastest I have ever read a book, but it was that good!

We meet Arthur when he is just a child and unaware that he is the king yet.  He and Merlin talk and go on all sorts of adventures which prepare the young boy for kingship.  He then goes to Camelot for a tourney with Sir Kay where he gets the Sword in the Stone.

Throughout the story I feel a lot of sympathy for King Arthur who loves Guinever but has a hard time expressing it, but (and this is very unexpected) I also felt for Lancelot and Guinever.  In this version, Merlin warns Arthur that Guinever will love someone else, but Arthur loves her so much that he marries her anyway.  Merlin's warning makes it seem like Lancelot and Guinever were destined to be together and had little choice.

Lancelot is also unique in this tale because while he remains the strongest and most valiant knight, he is portrayed as being very ugly.  His and Guinever's romance doesn't get off to a flashy start either, but they get into a bit of a tiff in which Lancelot hurts her feelings.  It is then that he feels bad and begins to be nice to her, but obviously it develops further than that.

A strong theme throughout the story is the importance of just war; only going to battle when you or innocents are threatened.  Arthur and Merlin both learn a lot about this and Arthur rules in a merciful and peaceful way.

The very end of the book brought me to absolute full-out tears.  It doesn't end in the traditional way, with an epilogue about Guinever and Lancelot's fate after the battle, but it ends just before King Arthur is to go out on the battle of Camlann where he will die.  There he gives a beautiful speech to his page and quickly knights the young boy before battle.  The speech itself is beautiful and wistful and since I know what happens to Arthur next it truly breaks my heart.  At the very end, Arthur asks the new knight to write down everything about the kingdom and never let anyone forget what can be achieved with compassion and peace.  It is revealed at the very, very end, that this knight's name was Thomas Malory.

Just writing this review has given me an overwhelming urge to go back and read the book again--it was just wonderful.  Isn't the title just perfect?  The feels!

Ah, and some of the wonderful, marvelous, magnificent, superb, glorious, sublime, lovely, delightful quotes:

“The bravest people are the ones who don’t mind looking like cowards.”

“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.”

“She hardly ever thought of him. He had worn a place for himself in some corner of her heart, as a sea shell, always boring against the rock, might do. The making of the place had been her pain. But now the shell was safely in the rock. It was lodged, and ground no longer.”

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

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


“The Destiny of Man is to unite, not to divide. If you keep on dividing you end up as a collection of monkeys throwing nuts at each other out of separate trees.”

“Now, in their love, which was stronger, there were the seeds of hatred and fear and confusion growing at the same time: for love can exist with hatred, each preying on the other, and this is what gives it its greatest fury.”

“In war, our elders may give the orders...but it is the young who have to fight.”

“Only fools want to be great.”

“Might does not make right! Right makes right!”

“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.”

"Those who lived by the sword were forced to die by it.”

“You could not give up a human heart as you could give up drinking. The drink was yours, and you could give it up: but your lover’s soul was not your own: it was not at your disposal; you had a duty towards it.”

“There is one fairly good reason for fighting - and that is, if the other man starts it. You see, wars are a great wickedness, perhaps the greatest wickedness of a wicked species. They are so wicked that they must not be allowed. When you can be perfectly certain that the other man started them, then is the time when you might have a sort of duty to stop them. ”

“War is like a fire. One man may start it, but it will spread all over. It is not about one thing in particular.”

"There was a moment in which everything stood still. Guinevere, hurt in her heart. Lancelot, sensing her stillness, stood also. The hawk stopped bating and the leaves did not rustle.
The young man knew, in this moment, that he had hurt a real person, of his own age. He saw in her eyes that she thought he was hateful, and that he had surprised her badly. She had been giving kindness, and he had returned it with unkindness. But the main thing was that she was a real person. She was not a minx, not deceitful, not designing and heartless. She was pretty Jenny, who could think and feel."

Have you read The Once and Future King?  Did you love it as much as I did?

Are you going to read The Once and Future King?  Good for you--let me know if you love it!

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