Thursday, 25 March 2004

The once and future king

Listening to:

Bach, Goldberg variations, played by Chen Pi-Hsien, on Naxos 8.550078.

Just read:

T. H. White, The once and future king.

This book is a combination of four novels that originally came out as separate volumes. The first is clearly a children’s book, and is the story of King Arthur’s childhood, right up until the moment when he pulls the sword from the stone. Disney made a cartoon film version that is apparently reasonably faithful to the book; I think I may have seen it. The book features a Merlyn who sends Arthur off on various magical adventures, turning him into various species of animal along the way.

The tone is rather odd. It’s a bit like Wodehouse in the Middle Ages, and though it generally works quite well (is amusing), it can be disconcerting to read something that takes itself with so little seriousness. Harry Potter has funny-ridiculous bits in it, but doesn’t feature Pellinore’s Questing Beast moping itself to death because Pellinore has stopped pursuing it.

In the remaining three books, the story gets considerably more serious and adult, though things are still leavened by occasional flashes of (rather silly) wit. For example, Lancelot is described as the best knight in the world, the Bradman of the knighting world, top of the battling averages. (And if you don’t get that joke, all four novels may well leave you rather cold.)

But the tone in these three is much darker. This is a national myth with a tragic ending, and all the ingredients are there: the love triangle between Guinevere, Lancelot and Arthur; Mordred the result of an incestuous coupling between Arthur and Morgause, and the gradual descent of an idealistic institution into rivalry and war. Even individual scenes can stand alone as seriously creepy: a cat being killed for a spell, hunting and killing a unicorn, and an unhinged and dangerous Mordred confronting Guinevere. It’s somewhat off-putting to have such dramatic material leavened with silliness, and you will definitely be disappointed if all you expect is four volumes of jolly romp. On the other hand, the central characters are all drawn sympathetically (particularly Lancelot), and their development over 20 or more years is pictured rather well. If you can cope with the variability in tone, you will find much to admire and enjoy here.

Comments

please can you sent me the about the once and future king eg like who are the player and with other question.
thank you

Posted by: Sara at July 22, 2004 07:34 AM