The Once and Future King T.H. White
The Once and Future King is an intricate, brilliantly composed novel that any wisdom-thirsting reader should enjoy. In this literary masterpiece, Terence Hanbury White combines the ancient legend of Arthur, Lancelot, Guenever, and the Knights of the Round Table with ethical themes found in feudal and modern societies alike. Through the Arthurian framework, White is enabled to convey a somber message about human nature’s many vices while upholding an engaging and mirthful plot.
One quality of this book that I greatly benefited from was the combination of modern events and factoids with the familiar story of England’s greatest monarch. Arthur’s teacher, Merlyn, in deference to his “weakness for humanity”, often uses contemporary occurrences to demonstrate philosophical viewpoints:
“ ‘Very interesting,’ (Merlyn) said in a trembling voice. ‘Very interesting. There was just such a man when I was young- an Austrian who invented a new way of life and convinced himself that he was the chap to make it work. He tried to impose his reformation by the sword, and plunged the civilized world into misery and chaos. But the thing which this fellow overlooked, my friend, was that he had a predecessor in the reformation business, called Jesus Christ.” (266-267).
This reference to Hitler along with numerous other modern allusions help the reader understand Arthur’s dilemmas, while giving the writing a humorous tone because of obvious anachronism.
By the end of Book IV, the jovial mood of Books I and II has all but dissipated, and Arthur finds that his efforts to change civilization have failed because of one major human flaw: imperfection. But even this dreadful feeling of futility does not extinguish the flame that Arthur lit. Instead, it gives him hope for the peace and perfection of future generations.
This book is not an easy read, but if you really strive to understand the deeper meanings woven into this remarkable tale, you will find the reading of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King an enlightening and gratifying experience.
I recommend this book for its insights into the grim past, evolving present, and optimistic future of the plight to understand human civilization. A perfect ten for thoughtful readers.