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The Round Table Needs a Facelift: A Dive into T.H. White’s The Once and Future King

book review

Some say chivalry is dead. But it probably has less to do with our lack of knights in shining armor and more to do with the crushing reality that no man could ever match up to T.H. White’s Arthur Pendragon, the paragon of virtue in “The Once and Future King.”

Summary

“The Once and Future King” is the big, sprawling epic of Arthurian legend, a tale woven out of whole cloth and old rags that have been embroidered into the collective subconscious of Western culture. It begins with young Wart (imagine if Harry Potter had been raised by Merlin instead of the Dursleys) and culminates in the majestic, poignant reign of King Arthur. The story travels through moments of whimsical enchantment, grim reality, political intrigue, and high tragedy. It’s as if White took the blueprint of Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur,” mixed it with a generous dose of Disney-esque charm, and sprinkled it all with a helping of Machiavellian philosophy.

Notable Quotes:

“Education is experience, and the essence of experience is self-reliance.”

“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.”

Review

Reading “The Once and Future King” is like being dragged back through the veil of romanticism to face the harsh and sober reality of the Middle Ages, only to be yanked back again into a dreamland of wizards and knights. White’s writing style is so modern and breezy that it’s like listening to your favorite uncle narrating a story at a fireside family gathering – assuming your favorite uncle had a vast knowledge of Arthurian lore, British culture, and Medieval falconry.

White’s character development is unparalleled – Arthur evolves from a naive, loveable oaf to a jaded, wise ruler bearing the weight of his flawed utopia. His Round Table, an idealistic venture at the beginning, seems just a rounder version of a squarish political folly by the end. Even the chivalrous Lancelot, trapped in the tortuous labyrinth of his love for Guinevere, comes across more as a deeply flawed human than a legendary knight.

White’s humor, combined with his keen sense of the tragic, renders a story that is as uplifting as it is heartbreaking. It’s a roller-coaster ride through the Arthurian legend, complete with all the laughter, tears, love, and loss you could want from a historical fantasy epic.

Rating

I’d give it a solid 4.5 out of 5. No, it’s not perfect, but if you’re looking for an authentic and compelling take on one of the greatest legends in history, “The Once and Future King” is your round ticket to Camelot.

Author Bio

Terence Hanbury White was an English author born in Mumbai (then Bombay) in British India in 1906. Educated at Cambridge and with a brief stint as a schoolmaster, White turned to full-time writing in 1936. His fascination with Arthurian legends and medieval life gave birth to “The Once and Future King,” which remains his best-known work. White’s distinctive blend of humor, insightful social commentary, and deep empathy for his characters has endeared him to generations of readers.

Study or Book Club Questions

  1. How does White’s portrayal of Arthur differ from traditional depictions of the character?
  2. What is the significance of the title “The Once and Future King”?
  3. How does White use humor to comment on the social and political themes in the book?
  4. Discuss the character of Lancelot. Is he a hero or an anti-hero?
  5. How does the concept of ‘might versus right’ play out in the novel?
  6. How do the fantastical elements in the story contribute to its overall themes and messages?
  7. How does White’s portrayal of women, particularly Guinevere, reflect on the social and cultural norms of the time the book was written?

Adaptations

Disney’s “The Sword in the Stone,” the charming animated film about young Arthur, is based on the first part of “The Once and Future King.” Though it’s a children’s movie, it still manages to encapsulate the enchanting whimsy of White’s writing. A proposed live-action adaptation of the entire novel by Warner Bros. has been in development hell for ages, much like Camelot itself. However, if it ever comes to fruition, here’s hoping it doesn’t lose the charm, wit, and depth of its source material in a quest for Hollywood glamour.

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