The Once and Future King – T H White

This book is all 5 of TH White’s King Arthur books brought together in one volume, first published in 1958.  I think it’s important to keep in mind the date it was first published and the fact most of it was written in the run up to WWII as it helps to understand the context in which it was written.

My Mum bought me the first book in the series when I was about 8 or 9 and I never past the first couple of chapters, despite it being the book the Disney film was based on.  I think Wart seemed like a drip and I struggled with some of the concepts.

However, in the here and now, I was much more receptive to it and more tolerant of the characters foibles.  Also, having been to see the RSCs version of Morte d’Arthur a year or so ago, I was interested in learning more about the Arthurian legend but put off by the idea of struggling with Malory’s early English.

I loved the story of Arthur growing into his role as King, making mistakes but willing to learn and to listen.  I enjoyed finding out more about the  Knights of the Round Table and their trials, successes and struggles.  There was a good mix of funny, heroic and sad amongst them.

The book was easy to read and kept my interest through the 812 pages but at the end I felt dispirited.  The author of the afterword, Sylvia Townsend Walker, talks about the Book of Merlyn as an attempt to find an antidote to war yet the book concludes that despite the best efforts of some individuals the human race is incapable of achieving this; that there will always be people who feel a hatred of something or someone that propels them to destroy.

Overall, I think this book says a lot about the human condition and the different and varied facets our our personalities.  It shows that there is good and bad in all of us and that it is a struggle to keep on the straight and narrow when life strews our paths with trials and temptations.

Would I recommend this book?  On balance I think yes.  But with the proviso that you have plenty of cheerful things organised between chapters and books!

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