Avox in Arcadia (perpetual) wrote,
Avox in Arcadia
perpetual

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Books Lately: The Once and Future King by T.H. White

There are only a handful of books I've ever left unfinished without really intending to, and this is possibly the first. I had a copy when I was around fourteen years old, which my mother got for me because most editions insist on advertising it on the cover as The World's Greatest Fantasy Classic.

At the time I found that odd, because I had never heard of it, but it made more sense when I saw it was Arthurian mythology. Although that wasn't (and still isn't) really my thing, I read and enjoyed the first part, about Merlin turning young Arthur into different kinds of animals to teach him about the world.

Before I had made much headway beyond that, I had some friends over and one noticed it on the shelf and went off about what a terrible book it was. His sister shrugged and said, "The first part was okay." Maybe that little exchange shouldn't have made any difference, but said sister was not only my best friend but also the one who introduced me to Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, and a whole slew of my other favorites.

I'm not really sure about the timeline here, but one way or another I gave up on the book. As years went by I developed my habit of choosing my next read by whatever was next on the bookshelves of wherever I lived. Lo and behold! My husband owns a copy of The Once and Future King (I still haven't asked him why, since I don't think he's read it himself), and it was next on the shelf when I had finished vol. 1 of The Gulag Archipelago.

With just a few chapters left, I think I'm glad that I did it this way. I agree with my friend that the beginning was better, but I also think it was better than okay, and it's cool that enough of it stuck with me over decades that I felt no need to skim through before I picked up with Arthur on his throne. That part is worthy of being considered a children's classic. The rest of it, in spite of the playful language and the implausible world-building, is better left for adults. How I managed to accidentally split it up so I became an adult in between the two parts, I don't know, but I like it.

Has anyone else read it, or is anyone well-versed in Round Table lore? If so, maybe you can fill me in on what's commonly seen as canon and what's canon to this book alone. I thought for sure I was going to love Lancelot until his arc revolved around his affair with Guenevere and he was doggedly described as ugly all along. Guenevere herself never had much of a chance with me (I just really hate marital infidelity in my romantic fiction). Arthur himself is a decent bloke, except he slept with his sister his cuckold status takes up too much of his character development.

What I mean by it being an odd book, though, is mostly the writing style -- how the narrator's level of omniscience is never really made clear, how references to the modern-at-the-time-of-publication world get wantonly tossed about, how adjectives take you by surprise. This is the stuff I can learn from, and appreciate.

It's not going on my lists of favorites or anything like that, but it's definitely a book I'm glad to have read. (All the way through.) (Almost.)
Tags: a book i read
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