The Once and Future King, by T.H. White

Must be over 15 years since I read this, although I read it multiple times before that and always have regarded it as one of my favourite books. It was a 99p kindle deal so I bought it there, even though I've got at least one "proper" version of it.

A couple of things that struck me about it - I'd assumed that the first book, the Sword in the Stone, was more child-oriented and that the subsequent books would be obviously more adult in tone. But in fact, SitS was a bit more grown up than I'd remembered, and the following ones did not seem that different. I think I recommended this book to Roger and had been expecting to say to him "the first book might seem a bit childish, but persevere" but I don't think I'd need to say that.

What I would be inclined to say though, is that the last book (The Book of Merlin) is not really worth bothering with, although it does rather pain me to say it. I remember trying to read it when it first came out, and struggling. So I thought this time I ought to give it a proper go, but - no - I couldn't get on with it. Partly because it contains large repeated sections from SitS, but partly because the rest of it is mostly White arguing, through Merlin and the animals, against the idea of war. So I think it's sort of interesting from a historical point of view, but it's not much of a story.

I was quite impressed by how many of the words used in the book that I'd sort of assumed were obscure or made-up expressions were actual real words (which the kindle dictionary knew about!). I started noting these about halfway through the book and they include "celt" - a kind of dagger, "whin", a kind of gorse - there were loads more - sarsenet, manognels, brigandine, hippocras, asperge, "a musical instrument called a regal", habergeon, nonage (I like that one), machiocolations, sumptuary, congeries.

Also, until I checked out the reference in this book, I didn't know the etymology of the word "pedigree".

Some quotes I highlighted:

In the abbeys all the monks were illuminating the initial letters of their mannuscripts with such a riot of invention that it was impossible to read the first page at all.
'It is all very well for Bors,' he said complainingly, 'but what about the hermit? What about Sir Colgrevance? Why didn't God save them?'

'Dogmas are difficult things,' said Arthur.

Guenever said: 'We don't know what their past history was. The killing didn't do any harm to their souls. Perhaps it even helped their souls, to die like that. Perhaps God gave them this good death because it was the best thing for them.'

A quote I highlighted was talking about Guenever:

You can't teach a baby to walk by explaining the matter to her logically - she has to learn the strange poise of walking by experience. In some way like that, you cannot teach a young woman to have knowledge of the world. She has to be left to the experience of the years. And then, when she is beginning to hate her used body, she suddenly finds that she can do it. She can go on living - not by principle, not by deduction, not by knowledge of good or evil, but simply by a peculiar and shifting sense of balance which defies each of these things often....and at this stage..we begin to forget, as we go stolidly balancing along, that there could have been a time when we were young bodies flaming with the impetus of life.

I'm re-reading that in the book now, and want to go on quoting the rest of it, it's so nice. You really end up caring for the characters and feeling upset when it all goes wrong.

A lovely book, I'll read it again (although I'll skip TBoM).

Completed : 03-Apr-2015

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