Once and Future King

Once and Future King

by T. H. White
Publisher: ACE Publishing
Mass market paperback, 639 pages
List Price: $9.99 Sale Price: $8.49

"Hilarious" might not be the first word that comes to mind when you think about King Arthur. Then again, courtly love and knights bashing each other with swords and a wizard who sees visions of dragons that symbolize new kingdoms is pretty ridiculous. But there are other aspects of the legend—Arthur's heartbreak when he learns of Guinevere's unfaithfulness, the betrayal of Modred, the blood and death and senseless violence—that are universally human and sad. More than any writer of the Arthur myth, T.H. White captures all these elements in a monumental work that is a masterpiece of revisionism, epic fantasy, and modern literature.

White's prose is stylish and reminiscent of ancient times, witty and fast-paced and poetic. Its ability to induce laughter and tears on the same page is evidence of its power. What is perhaps his most stunning achievement is to bring together what in every other recounting of the story are unrelated characters and events into a cohesive whole that is at once a novel and the truest evocation of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. Because the Disney film The Sword in the Stone was loosely based on part one of The Once and Future King, many people assume this is children's literature. It is most certainly not children's literature. Bawdy, violent, frightening and absurd, this is adult literature at its life-embracing finest.

If this were simply a wild comedy, such a long work (over 600 pages) might not be worth the read. But this is ultimately a human novel, a novel that embraces love and fear and pain and joy, a novel not so much about King Arthur as Arthur the man, and all the other men and women of his court, whose lives are as complicated and simple and incomplete as our own. White's incredibly lyric prose draws us into a world that is utterly foreign and utterly recognizable, a kind of quotidian fairy realm brightened not with good feelings or happy endings but by the beauty and mystery of the human soul.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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Exodus Rating:
FLAWS: Intense fighting/violence, magic, some sexuality, overall earthiness
Summary: The legend of King Arthur as you've never encountered it—hilarious, exciting, bawdy, and ultimately very human.

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