Once upon a time, a long time ago, a young boy pulled a sword from a stone and became a king whose name would go down in history. Once upon a time, not so long ago, a writer took it upon himself to write the life of this world-renowned king and succeeded by publishing one of the most memorable retellings since Sir Thomas Malory. T. H. White’s The Once and Future King breathes incredible life into the legend of King Arthur by taking readers on a journey beginning with his childhood and leading up to his inevitable downfall.
The Once and Future King is a gem of a story everyone should read at least once for it has everything a reader could ask for. Adventure, chivalry, knights, tourneys, humor, romance, betrayal, sentimentality, hope, belief, and so much more awaits within its pages. Even with over 600 pages, readers will find themselves wanting more upon completion. If readers want more of the story, White directs readers to Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur numerous times, saying if readers wish to read more descriptive tellings of certain parts of the story, Malory’s source is the best to read. Even if readers do not wish to read more of the story, they will more than likely wish for more of White’s very unique writing style.
White paid incredible attention to detail and was incredibly descriptive when it came to setting up a scene or describing what something looked like. Normally, describing a scene to the minutest detail would turn readers away from a story, but White’s story is written so well and paints such a beautiful picture, one can overlook it. He played with past and present tense, even becoming one of few authors to successfully break the fourth wall at random intervals to address his audience directly. With many characters playing a crucial role, however big or small, in Arthurian legend, White was able to give each a distinct personality as well as amazing scenes of dialog between two or more characters.
The Once and Future King is separated into four books with each possessing a different emotional feel as well as a different part of Arthur’s life. Readers begin with a familiar tale for if it was not read to them as a childhood bedtime story, they most likely saw the Disney adaptation from 1963: The Sword in the Stone. This first book is a light-hearted story of when Arthur was a young boy named Wart and went on various expeditions with his tutor Merlyn. It provides an excellent introduction with many fun and quirky stories, including a run-in with a well-known legendary cameo and one of the funniest jousts ever written.
After Wart pulls Excalibur from the stone, he officially becomes King Arthur. Thus begins book two, The Queen of Air and Darkness, where a young man, who never knew of his royal lineage, must learn how to rule all of Britain. Here is where Arthur comes into his own as not only a ruler, but as a man. Believing at first that war was the only thing he should do, he slowly learns that might does not always equal right. That knights who knew practiced chivalric virtues could bring justice to the land. Thus he created a table where all knights who fought for peace were equal: the Round Table.
One of the earlier knights to fight for King Arthur was the legendary knight who could not be defeated, Lancelot. The third book, The Ill-Made Knight, is the longest of the four and one of the most important. Lancelot is introduced in detail along with his affair with Arthur’s wife, Guenever. It is a beautifully tragic story, especially considering Arthur is aware of the affair nearly the whole time, but is torn between his love for his wife and his love for his best knight and friend. Paired with the drama of one of the most famous love triangles, readers also read more drama that befalls Lancelot and how he copes with it.
The Candle in the Wind brings the story as a whole to a close, ending with the inevitable downfall of one of the greatest kings of legend. What makes the final book so memorable is the fact that it takes the readers through a recap of Arthur’s life and it is amazing to see his character’s development. From a boy whose only wish was to become a knight. To a young man who began to see that war was not the way to rule, but to rule with chivalry and peace. To a man who achieved the peace he fought so hard for, but with no evil left in the world, what else was there to fight for?
Once upon a time, a long time ago, a king overcame might with right with the aid of knights and chivalry and created a peaceful land for a short while. Once upon a time, not so long ago, a writer created a masterful retelling of this king where every reader who has read or will read it takes something different away from it. The Once and Future King is an excellent story for those interested in this medieval era of legends and knights in shining armor or for those who are simply looking for a good King Arthur retelling. White has created a story with incredibly vivid descriptions, an engaging and witty writing style, and a meticulous journey through the life of a king whose name will be remembered for generations to come.
Originally published at rolloutreviews.com on May 8, 2017.