The Once And Future King by T. H. White

When I first started reading this, I was so completely taken aback by the Boys’ Own, jolly-good, public school vibe of the writing that I honestly wasn’t sure whether I was going to like it. The first part was, thus, slow-going for me, used as I was to depictions of Arthurian romance that were a lot less grounded in reality than this was. But as the book progressed, as we got to Excalibur and Morgause and Lancelot and Guenever and the Grail and Mordred, it became readily apparent that the entire point of stripping the earlier part of the fantasy of the romance of it all was to allow T H White and, by extension, the reader to examine the enduring legacy of the Arthurian legend in how it changed, for good, how the English moved from Might Is Right to a legal system in which no one was exempt. And I know it’s a bit disingenuous to say that it was Arthur himself who, if he wasn’t entirely fictional was likely far less important than the literature he inspired, ushered in the concept of civil laws: I’m well aware that Mr White was likely using the legend to fit his own meditations rather than the other way around. But by God, it’s a convincing, compelling use of the Arthurian story, to ask the reader to consider humanity and civilization and justice and what it means to be great and good, through this familiar literary lens. Mr White pulls together all the disparate strands, popular and obscure, of the legends and lays and fits them into a coherent narrative that feels fresh and, even after nearly a century of the book’s writing, contemporary in its consideration of the human feelings that propel the narrative. My only complaint is that the book ends before the actual death of Arthur: I would have loved to see how Mr White would have handled that!

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