Featured Staff Picks Book: The Once and Future King
Below is a review of "The Once and Future King", courtesy of Samantha Winn, Archives Assistant.
If you read only one traditional fantasy novel in your life, make it this one.
"The Once and Future King" is a sweeping Arthurian epic, inspired by the classic 15th century compilation "Le Morte d'Arthur". The novel follows the life of Arthur from cradle to grave, divided into four sections: The Sword in the Stone, which focuses on his childhood and education under the wizard Merlin; The Queen of Air and Darkness, which introduces Arthur as king and foreshadows his destruction; The Ill-Made Knight, which develops the character of Lancelot and sets in motion his affair with Queen Guinevere; and The Candle in the Wind, which chronicles Arthur's betrayal, downfall, and death.
White was a fervent student of Freudian psychoanalysis, natural studies, and history. "The Once and Future King" presents a poignant study of human nature as the juxtaposition of infinite cruelty and nobility. Familiar characters are reinterpreted as deeply flawed individuals who are motivated by the full spectrum of human desires. White also explores the moral philosophies behind historical systems of government through the eyes of the young King Arthur, from the "might makes right" mentality of feudal Europe to the day to day futility of 20th century communism.
Profoundly shaped by colonial disputes he witnessed as a young boy in Bombay (British India) and his experiences in England and Ireland during the World Wars, his interpretation of the Arthurian tradition is a dark allegory for the modern age. This allegory manifests in statements such as “We cannot build the future by avenging the past”, “In war, our elders may give the orders…but it is they young who have to fight”, and “War is like a fire. One man may start it, but it will spread all over. It is not about one thing in particular.”
Perhaps the most compelling device White employs is the character Merlyn who lives "backwards in time", starting the novel as an old man and growing younger as Arthur's life progresses. This serves as the basis for Merlyn's initial wisdom and prophetic skills, and his subsequent descent into apparent senility. It also allows White to incorporate many humorous anachronisms.
"The Once and Future King" will primarily appeal to fans of the fantasy genre, connoisseurs of Arthurian legend, and students of political history. White's work helped to definitively shape the modern fantasy novel and directly inspired some of today's most beloved fantasy authors, including J. K. Rowling (who credited Merlyn as the inspiration for Dumbledore), Neil Gaiman, and Gregory Maguire.
If you are interested in checking out "The Once and Future King", please see the Staff Picks Display on the 2nd floor of the Robert R. Muntz Library.