Thursday, May 16, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 25 -- The Once and Future King

by T.H. White

Started: May 9
Finished: June 8

Notes: I have put off reading this book all my life for a very simple reason, one I'm not really wanting to admit since I'm a fantasy writer. But the truth is, I'm not a big fan of the Arthurian mythos. Okay, there, I said it. My reasoning? I just find all of the characters to be so weak and wishy washy. One stupid decision after another, after another. I don't mind flawed characters, but total imbeciles who continue to do stupid things over and over again? In all fairness, I'm sure I've just not been exposed to some of the stronger tales of Camelot, which perhaps this novel is, most of my exposure having been from Medieval literature, Disney, and the early '80s movie Excalibur. Oh, and Monty Python, though I love that version. I finally decided to read this story when I ran across this old paperback in a used book store, the cover being for the movie Camelot. Maybe my mind will be changed.

Mini review: Took me a lot longer to read that one that I'd expected, mainly because it was a while before I could get into this one. My feelings on this book vary depending upon which part of the book. Initially this book was four novellas, and my enjoyment of each of these novellas varied.

The first novella is titled "The Sword in the Stone" and should be familiar to most who know of King Arthur. It is basically the tale of Arthur's education before Merlin and under Merlin, and then Arthur's eventually becoming king by pulling Excalibur from a stone. This section of the book was okay, but nothing spectacular. It was mildly interesting to me, comparing it to other origin tales of Arthur with which I am familiar. The Merlin character here was pretty likable, and Arthur grew on me some, but over all I still didn't care much for the characters.

The second novella is "The Queen of Air and Darkness," and this was by far my least favorite portion of the book. It drags on and on, jumping from one little, seemingly unimportant scene to the next. Most of the story here concerns the four boys who are part of the northern Orkney clan, a group that will give Arthur troubles throughout his kingship. Very little that happened here seemed important to me while reading it. However, there were a few scenes that turned out to be heavy foreshadowing of later events, and this was kind of nice in a poetic, literary fashion. Of the truly important events in this novella, the events that pushed the story forward, they could have been written in two pages instead of 150. Really.

The third novella was my favorite, "The Ill-Made Knight." I did not fall in love with this book until I got to this section, which deals with the life of Lancelot and the search for the Holy Grail. It was at this point that the author became quite genuine, in my estimation, with his thoughts and studies on religion and spirituality. Lancelot becomes a truly tortured figure, tortured spiritually, and eventually so does Arthur. It was here that I truly began to understand and have empathy for some of the characters, though I will say Queen Guenevere was shown often in a negative light, though she does redeem herself some in the fourth novella. Some of the writing in "The Ill-Made Knight" is White's strongest and best, and some of the scenes are enough to nearly bring one to tears.

The fourth novella is "The Candle in the Wind." It focuses upon the betrayal of Lancelot and Guenevere, the war between Lancelot and Arthur (along with Gawain), and eventually the war of Arthur (sort of with Lancelot) against Mordred, Arthur's bastard son. Some of the writing here is as good as that of the third novella, but the writer also tends to become more philosophical here, in a number of pages focusing upon Arthur's thoughts toward the end of his reign. This part of the book was interesting to me, but I did not enjoy it as much as "The Ill-Made Knight," nor did I dislike it as much as I did the earlier portions of the book.

1 comment:

Virginia Llorca said...

I am looking forward to your opinion. I have a collection of at least twenty versions of the Arthur legend. One was hugely long and it started with them pulling a baby from the sea who was Arthur and when it ended the boat had not yet reached shore. I didn't finish it or get the rest of the series which must be thirty books long at the rate they are going. I have a particular interest in Guinevere and her "flaws". I tend to borrow heavily from that concept. I think Thomas Berger's Arthur Rex was the most enjoyable but it has been many years. White's, including his Merlin's are good as I recall.