‘The Once and Future King’ by T.H. White {BookTalk}

BookTalk is a new series of blog posts, where I discuss non-Tolkien books in concise and honest reviews. Read on dear reader …


The Once and Future King - Book Cover.png

The Once and Future King recounts the journey of a young Arthur as he becomes king of Britain and is mentored by the wizard Merlyn on the ideas of chivalry, justice and human nature.

I approached this book with some caution, not knowing exactly what to expect. Yet, the wealth of positive reviews I had read prior to purchasing it, became a very exciting prospect. Indeed, I fell in love with the narrative from the first few pages.

The massive tome of over 850 pages is a beautiful collection of 5 short novels written between 1938 and 1941:

  • The Sword in the Stone
  • The Witch in the Wood
  • The Ill-Made Knight
  • The Candle in the Wind
  • The Book of Merlyn

White’s writing is exceptionally sublime, easy to follow and at the same time explores some rather intricate themes and philosophical ideas. The stories are filled with memorable characters besides the ones most notable from Arthurian literature. The humour, the passion, the companionship, along with particular anachronistic elements within its pages, are what make The Once and Future King a truly remarkable reading experience.

There is also a sense of evolution in the tone of writing as one progresses to each successive book, as the atmosphere becomes darker and more removed from the child-like qualities of The Sword in the Stone. This is cleverly executed, and is an appropriate change of style as the events in the stories lead up to the eve of the battle of Camlann, Arthur’s final battle.

It is a shame that the fifth book in the collection, The Book of Merlyn, was left unfinished by the author, and contains some passages that were reproduced from The Sword in the Stone. Nevertheless, the entire volume has a sense of finality to it, one that makes the reading experience a truly magnificent journey worth taking.

Readers fascinated by the King Arthur mythology will love this book.

Meanwhile, if you have any reading suggestions for similar books, I’m all ears! 🙂



10 thoughts on “‘The Once and Future King’ by T.H. White {BookTalk}

  1. That’s a book I’ve heard of, seen a copy of, but never actually read 🙂 I do have a few suggestions though, for something Arthuria, includingthe Morte D’Arthur itself.

    Here is an article about E. Vinaver, who produced an edition of it in 1947: http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/text/yee-eugene-vinavers-magnificent-malory-exhibit-guide

    – this, written in the 12th century, is about the kings of Britain from Brutus onwards, and the section on Arthur takes up about a third of it: https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/34826/the-history-of-the-kings-of-britain/

    – and here is a 13th-century version of the death of Arthur, which I have not seen: https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/34911/the-death-of-king-arthur/

    – and here is Tolkien’s version of the tale:.https://www.tolkien.co.uk/products/the-fall-of-arthur-j-r-r-tolkien-christopher-tolkien-9780007557301/

    – the same, from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Fall-Arthur-J-R-R-Tolkien/dp/0544227832/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1533466694&sr=8-1&keywords=fall+of+arthur+tolkien&dpID=61BINBREWTL&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

      1. The retelling by Roger Lancelyn Green of the Arthurian legend is captivating, and the account of the battle of Camlann & Arthur’s passing to Avalon is deeply moving. It it’s not true, it should be 🙂 Nothing in the chain of events beginning with the adultery of Lancelot & Guinevere is inevitable, until Arthur insists on fighting with Mordred.

  2. I read the TH White book as a teen and remember loving it. Geoffrey of Monmouth is worth the effort. (And if you enjoy that I recommend the [unrelated] History of the Franks by Geoffrey of Tours, which I used to read with students.)

    1. Gregory of Tours is a bit more reliable than Geoffrey of Monmouth. To put it mildly.

      OTOH, Geoffrey of Monmouth is much more picturesque: he gives us Brutus (great-grandson of Aeneas of Troy, no less), Bladud the founder of Bath who tried to fly, Lear, Cymbeline, Brennus who sacked Rome, Constantine, Arthur himself, and many more.

      And Brutus also receives a prophecy from the goddess Diana, of the future imperial greatness of Britain, which has been amply fulfilled 🙂

      To call Geoffrey’s book massively influential is no more than the truth.

  3. I’m late to the party, but I’ve published a redaction of Le Morte as well.

    My version is about half as long as Roger Lancelyn Green’s and a fourth as long as the original, yet it includes every incident and character Malory mentions; its chapter breaks and numbering echo Malory’s, so you can always find your place in the original; and it has an index! Le Morte is a masterpiece, but it can be tough going. First-time fans might want to look at my book first.

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