The Once and Future King by T.H. White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I feel like it would be quite unfair to judge all five books as a whole, even if they are bound this way, but "What, What?"
"See, some things turn out this way, see? Even classics, see?" What, What?
I honestly went through many changes while reading this work, but that may be entirely because I keep seeing how it has changed the world, our perceptions, and especially it's influence on so many of the cultural set pieces we enjoy across a wide, wide canvas.
I was thrown, willy-nilly, into a purely Disney Sword In Stone cartoon for the first book. Hell, no matter how I wanted to pry myself from that version, I couldn't. Wart., I.E., Arthur, and the doddering old English fool, Merlin, were perfect caricatures of themselves even as they turned into all the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea and taught valuable lessons of what it would be to be a Knight. What, what?
Okay, I WAS thrown off my game a little bit with the introduction of the Encyclopedia Britannica and at LEAST two references to Guy Fawkes, until I finally decided to turn off my brain and let this belated realization of a kid's story have its nefarious way with me. What, what?
I quickly realized, by style and attempted humor, that a certain author by the name Terry Pratchett took all the specialized elements of this book and made something with a much more comprehensive world and better timing on the comedy and odd juxtapositions. He owed a debt to this old YA classic, absolutely, and the borrowed style is as plain as day. I wound up liking it just fine once I managed my expectations, but I still prefer Mr. Pratchett. :) But what the hell was up with Robin Hood and Tuck, What, What?
Things got slightly better by book two, with the darker "M" themes, with witchcraft and Fae, adventure and even a bit of knightly heroism. I got into it, but let me be perfectly honest: I've been spoiled by these characters through The Mists of Avalon, so it's hard to want less depth, less straight comprehensibility.
But, like the previous book, I took a lesser critical view, and with book three and book four, I was utterly delighted to find out that most of our modern shiny knights in clean halls, bursting with honor, utter fair play, and utter moral christian virtue came from T. H. White. I wondered where the hell it all went wrong, or why such amazing and widespread departures from reality and history got introduced into our public mind like the great whitewashing of our time, and now I know.
Yes, yes, I know that the Arthurian legend has always been the sock puppet for each culture that re-appropriated it, but I'll always be partial to the popular incarnation of this from the times of the crusades. (I don't care which you choose. Early, middle or late, they're all charming.) Worse, I'm truly upset with the loss of the hidden messages wrapped in metaphors and anagrams. Hell, I would have given anything for just a HINT of a Rosicrucian chemical wedding. But no, this modern incarnation is all about modern social mores, being a good christian, and bringing out the great club of politics, as was seen MOST PERFECTLY in book five.
I can't say I disagree with some of his sentiments. I hate war, too. I probably would have done everything in my power to be a pacifist, too, which is quite fun to pull out INSIDE a book ostensibly about war, domination, civil-war, and enough personal strife and tragedy to choke a war-horse.
Instead, I come away with the shiniest patina of High Nobility, hell paved with good intentions, and impossibly wise Englishmen who don't really know what the hell they're talking about. Book five. OMG. Were you expecting an old Arthur getting it on as a goose and being subject to a political treatise on capitalism and communism? Or a truly unfair slight against ants?
Yeah. Me either.
What I took away from this? Monty Python and the Search For The Holy Grail. Book three, especially. That movie is an almost perfect counterpoint to book three. I think I'm gonna pop my dvd in my player right now.
Do I sound like I don't like this work? No. Or at least, I don't dislike it. It's clear and bright and it fairly pipes the British Anthem on every page. I've never been much for patriotism, but I'm almost propagandized into the tradition.
Oh, and yeah, deep sea diving is an almost perfect way to explain to the reader the difficulties of wearing armor. And Merlin was a poor boy in modern England. What, what? See? See?
I recommend to you, dear reader, if you like your legends light and Disney, full of talking animals and lots of anachronistic conversations. Contains all of the most popular modern imaginings of the Arthurian legend, sans the deep discourses, the deeper understanding of the Holy Blood and the secrets therein.
But of course, there's always the many maidens trying to take the pure knight's virginity. That never gets old, what, what?
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