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Exploring T.H. White's Arthurian legend novel collection, "Once and Future King"

Collection of Once and Future King book covers hovering in front of a misty woods scene with an old bearded gents face in top left corner. In the bottom right corner is a depiction of the Arthurian "sword in the stone".
T. H. White's "Once and Future King" collection

Terence Hanbury White (Tim to his friends) was a British author born in India on 29 May 1909. He is best known for his contribution to Arthurian legend with his Once and Future King collection of novels. It’s quite a tome (I’m reading it now – didn’t realise it was actually four novels!). The included novels are: Sword in the Stone first published 1938, The Witch in the Wood (1939), The Ill-Made Knight (1940), and The Candle in the Wind (1958). The Book of Merlyn (1977) was published posthumously as a conclusion to the series =.

White revised the first two novels, and resubmitted these along with the last two and The Book of Merlyn  in 1941 to his publisher to be published as one novel. However, there were paper shortages due to the war and the publisher declined.

Once and Future King spawned Camelot (stage and screen adaptations), Sword in the Stone animated Disney version, and no doubt loads more. I’ve just finished reading Sword in the Stone and recognised several “inspirations” for other stories I’ve read and watched. The collection, of course, was itself an adaption of Thomas Malory’s La Morte Darthur written in the 15th century. White started his Arthurian journey in college with a thesis on Malory’s work.

White wrote a number of science fiction and fantasy novels, autobiographies (well at least one), social history, and falconry. He passed away in 1964 after a heart attack and is buried in Greece.

Exploring the Once and Future King

I still have over ten hours of exploring the "Once and Future King" collection. The early chapters of Sword in the Stone called to mind the Disney animation (and I haven’t watched that since I was a kid) but move past that and you reach deeper story, the themes and shifts of the developing characters.


From near ridiculous nonsense language (and dialect that I found hard to understand) to sublime and philosophical grandeur, White takes the reader on a journey of discovery as The Wart (Arthur) learns how to be "true" (to himself and to the people around him) even as he learns how to navigate life as a squire to his foster brother, Kay. With the magic of Merlyn, Wart learns equally from territorial ant tribes bent on survival at all costs to winter geese who take no heed of irrelevant boundaries - there are no boundaries when you fly. White’s love and knowledge of natural and social history shines through every chapter.

I’m surprised at how much I’m enjoying and learning from this novel, which I only picked up because last week was T. H. White’s birthday and I wanted to create a social post. I always like to do a little bit of research for my posts and this has been a learning curve. From his novels to his personal history, White is an eye-opener, and I’m now keen to read as much as possible.

So happy belated birthday to “Tim”. I’m moving on to book 2 shortly. I understand it’s a lot darker than 1. Also, it was revised and republished as The Queen of Air and Darkness, which is the version in the collection I have on my kindle. I imagine the original would be pretty hard to obtain, but I’m up for a challenge.




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