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The Once and Future King (Mass Market)
Other Books in Series
This is book number 1 in the Once and Future King series.
This is White’s most famous work, although he’s a prolific and wonderful writer of non-fiction as well. This is the text on which Disney’s The Sword in the Stone is based and the makers of the film did well in not trying to embellish White’s original. Though ostensibly written for children, this book wants readers to return frequently—I’ve read and reread several times and it’s one of the most consistently rewarding stories I know. I encourage you to read The Once and Future King together with White’s The Goshawk (an account of the misery experienced by all when White tried and failed spectacularly to train a goshawk as a hunting companion) and Helen MacDonald’s H Is for Hawk, a clear-eyed but profoundly sympathetic portrait of White concealed in a memoir of grief.
The plot of The Once and Future King is the coming of age of Wart, the future King Arthur of Camelot, raised to be a just and wise ruler by Merlin, a magician who doesn’t quite have the hang of time travel but has seen the whole arc of history. Merlin is trying to teach Wart what it is to be a man—what leadership really looks like and that mercy is a harder virtue than ruthlessness is a strength. The movie stops at the end of Book 1 but White carries on into three more parts and we learn about Arthur’s actual reign, his extremely complex relationship with Lancelot and Guinevere, the war with the Orkneys, and the eventual fall of Camelot. Every time I read it, I look forward to the details fuzzing over with time so I can read it again.
—Sarah, Longfellow Books
— From Sarah Recommends!
T. H. White’s masterful retelling of the saga of King Arthur is a fantasy classic as legendary as Excalibur and Camelot, and a poignant story of adventure, romance, and magic that has enchanted readers for generations.
Once upon a time, a young boy called “Wart” was tutored by a magician named Merlyn in preparation for a future he couldn’t possibly imagine. A future in which he would ally himself with the greatest knights, love a legendary queen and unite a country dedicated to chivalrous values. A future that would see him crowned and known for all time as Arthur, King of the Britons.
During Arthur’s reign, the kingdom of Camelot was founded to cast enlightenment on the Dark Ages, while the knights of the Round Table embarked on many a noble quest. But Merlyn foresaw the treachery that awaited his liege: the forbidden love between Queen Guenever and Lancelot, the wicked plots of Arthur’s half-sister Morgause and the hatred she fostered in Mordred that would bring an end to the king’s dreams for Britain—and to the king himself.
“[The Once and Future King] mingles wisdom, wonderful, laugh-out-loud humor and deep sorrow—while telling one of the great tales of the Western world.”—Guy Gavriel Kay
About the Author
T. H. White is the author of the classic Arthurian fantasy The Once and Future King, among other works.
“A fierce and damaged man, T. H. White wrote about fierce and damaged people—and children, and animals—with a brilliant, painful innocence that has no equal in literature. He is so good at hurt and shame—how did he also manage to be so funny? I have laughed at his great Arthurian novel and cried over it and loved it all my life.”—Ursula K. Le Guin
“Certain books offer pleasures so rich and enduring, they become part of what defines us. The Once and Future King is like that for me. It manages—by some miracle—to be about its own time, and a distant, legendary time, and about today. It mingles wisdom, wonderful, laugh-out-loud humor and deep sorrow—while telling one of the great tales of the Western world. I envy the reader coming to it for the first time.”—Guy Gavriel Kay
“White took hold of the ultimate English epic and recast it in modern literary language, sacrificing none of its grandeur or its strangeness in the process, and adding in all the humor and passion that we expect from a novel. What was once as stiff and two-dimensional as a medieval tapestry becomes rich and real and devastatingly sad.”—Lev Grossman
“Touching, profound, funny and tragic.”—Los Angeles Times
“Richly imagined and unfailingly eloquent and entertaining, its appeal is timeless and universal. If a reader reads only one Arthurian tale, let this be it.”—Booklist
“The Once and Future King is full of insights, scenes and flourishes that are really quite astonishing.”—The Guardian (U.K.)