The Once and Future King by T. H. White
I read The Once and Future King by T. H. White for the Daily Wire Third Thursday Book Club (highly recommended!). I’ve never been that interested in the Arthurian Legend stories, but wanted to give this a try.
The book consists of four separate yet connected books: The Sword in the Stone, The Queen of Air and Darkness, The Ill-Made Knight, and The Candle in the Wind. There is a fifth book that is not part of this volume, so I did not read or review it.
The Sword in the Stone recounts the childhood of Wart, aka Art. Wart is taught by the wizard Merlyn by use of becoming various animals so he can learn from them. This book was interesting and the animals teach Wart lessons and insight that will aide him when he becomes King Arthur.
In the second book, Wart has become king and must figure out how to rule. He struggles to overcome the barbarous mentality of might is right and thus forms the Round Table of knights.
In The Ill-Made Knight there is a lot of action centering on Sir Lancelot. Here we see Lancelot’s struggles between sin and repentance, honor and dishonor. He is trapped by his mistakes so must continually lie. Yet he is mostly good and merciful to those he battles and those he loves.
The Candle in the Wind wraps up the tragic story with King Arthur pitted against his incestuous-produced son, Mordred.
One of the main themes of all the books is sin and whether you should be responsible for past sins committed by others. King Arthur is seduced by an awful woman who we discover is his half-sister and bores Mordred. Instead of taking care of this child, Arthur tries to kill him.
Mordred can never forgive his father for this and obsesses over vengeance, leading to the deaths of his half-brothers, his mother, and the fracturing of the kingdom.
Lancelot’s sins also contribute to the demise of the kingdom as well as the deaths of several people including the mother of his child. He tries to be honorable yet can not let go of Queen Guenevere even though with his love affair with her he knowingly puts her (and himself) in danger.
King Arthur tries his best to create a civilization that puts law and justice above sheer force or might. His knights, especially Lancelot, are mighty but need to be merciful. However, when these noble men (and women) commit crimes against the kingdom, they must be dealt with justly.
In the end Arthur’s biggest flaw is to believe that there can be a perfect government or a utopia on earth. It is noble to try our best to make civilization as just as possible, but freedom from sin can only happen in heaven.
It is worth noting the heavy criticism on the female characters throughout the book. This is definitely a male-centered work of fiction, fitting because it focuses on knights, jousting, and a king. It is disappointing that the main female character, Guenevere is flat and unlikable. She can’t have a child, yet the two men in her life have both conceived children sinfully. If perhaps she would have had a child with King Arthur things would have turned out differently.
Overall, I found the story to be interesting with a ton of themes to explore.