Book Review: The Once and Future King, by T.H. White

The Once and Future King

Grade: A

For the most part, this novel–well, collection of novels, in truth–is simply a work of genius. Many great lines (too many to quote from memory just now, but suffice to say they were all ravenously devoured by the jaded peacenik that is me), many wondrous adventures, many touching moments, and many, many pages.

I was disappointed to learn that the Wizard’s Duel between Merlyn and “Mad, Mad” Madame Mim was cut out of this version of TOaFK (I heart acronyms, just about as much as I heart anachronisms, which are delightfully peppered throughout the novel, particularly the earlier segments, mostly appearing because of the clever characterization that has Merlyn living “backwards in time,” meaning he is growing younger as Arthur grows older). For some reason, someone (T.H. White? Editors? I know not…I’m too tired to Google it right now) decided Mim doesn’t fit in the story, so they cut her out. Oh well, at least she lives on in the Disney movie, which is good but in retrospect doesn’t really do the novel The Sword in the Stone justice at all, since the book is very much an anti-war treatise and the movie is, well, a Disney movie.

Also, I was disappointed to find that the later segments of TOaFK tend to drag and do not usually retain the pace of the earlier segments and therefore require a much longer attention span, something I don’t usually like to pull out for summer reading. But still, as long-winded as the latter sections can be, they are still chock-full of typical T.H. White insights and anti-war sentiment, both of which I heartily cherish. Most moving in particular is Arthur’s obligatory death scene (or dying scene actually, as he doesn’t actually die “on camera”), which I wasn’t expecting to be so emotional. But it makes sense, I guess, that after you’ve stuck with a character for so many pages, from childhood through late adulthood, through trials and tribulations, through adultery and deceit, that you develop an emotional attachment to him or her.

Perhaps that is what I liked best about the novel, actually: getting to see a colorful illustration of the life and death (or dying) of a character so deeply embedded in Western culture and traditions that practically everyone in Europe and the U.S. knows who he is, a character who I, at least, have known and loved my entire life.

I heard it through the grapevine that they’re trying to make a film adaptation–a new and supposedly complete film adaptation, that is–of TOaFK. I only hope that they keep in the anti-war sentiment and hilarious anachronisms and avoid the “bibbiddy-bobbeddy-boo”-ness that can so easily be put into–and consequently water down and belabor–an adaptation like this. The best film adaptations stick to the heart of the original story, and if Hollywood can do that with TOaFK, then oh, what a heart this adaptation will have.

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