The Once and Future King

August 3, 2009
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The story of the shimmering glories of Camelot has experienced multiple reincarnations, and perhaps deservingly so. It is one of the most breathtaking legends of the past few hundred years and endlessly provides a standard on what epic royalty and brilliant fantasy should be like. Over the years, Camelot has undeniably captured the imagination, dreams, and hearts of those who love stories and of those who love to tell stories.

T.H. White's politically-fueled and dreamlike spectacle that is The Once and Future King is a clear representation of how the shining armors and castles of Camelot and the inevitable tragedy of King Arthur include inhabitants and ideas that are not so different from a humble, modern society. Or specifically, in White's perspective, Camelot is not too different from the World War II-dominated world that the author himself lived in and often alluded to in his work.

White, heavily influenced by Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, tells his version of the story in four, separately published parts: The Sword and the Stone (1938), The Queen of Air and Darkness (1939), The Ill-Made Knight (1948), and The Candle in the Wind (1958, first published in the anthology). The parts make up what is now commonly and collectively known as The Once and Future King.

The novel chronicles King Arthur's humble beginnings as a boy nicknamed Wart, a hero-worshiping child who feels that he is destined to be the dutiful squire of the arrogant yet relatively decent Kay. Wart's life dramatically changes when he becomes the student of Merlyn, a wizard who travels backwards in time and knows that Wart's destiny is grander anything the boy could have ever dreamed of—just like any reader who knows the Arthurian legend well.

When Arthur becomes the heir to Uther Pendragon's England, he witnesses a land where Might has ruled for too long and Right has long settled in the fog. With Merlyn's help, Arthur changes the status quo. Arthur and Merlyn's philosophy is that since they have Might on their side, they can use it for Right. Arthur uses his power as the king to create the Round Table, a congregation of respectable knights who have equal standing and all fight for the good of the people.

But Arthur's weakness is his innocence and his relentless trust for those he loves and respects. When Sir Lancelot becomes the greatest knight the Round Table has ever known, Arthur forges a close friendship with the knight with a warm, loving heart. Because of Arthur's admiration for Lancelot, Arthur is unable to consciously acknowledge Lancelot's passionate, decades-long love affair with Arthur's beloved wife, Guenevere, until it is simply too late.

White's novel begins with a steadfast, childlike wonder—full of magical transformations and innocent eagerness. As Arthur becomes the head resident of Camelot, the mood gradually darkens: young boys are ignorant of their evil mother, an affair heads toward doom, sins come back to haunt the sinners, and even comic moments come under dark, gray clouds. It is White's testament of those who have power and those who become victims of their own power. The world continues to be merciless and we can only wonder how King Arthur was able to be so different from what was expected from him.





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joanofarc15 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 23, 2009 at 12:38 pm
This is amazingly well written! I am so going to read this book now. It sounds so good!
 
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