The Book of Merlyn by T.H. White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Better rating because Lancelot and Guenever isn’t here, and more thorough exploration of White’s ideas on justice, and life, and society, and war.
It’s a meditation through symbolism and analogy, through the life of different types of animals, particularly ants (communism) and geese.
This one bears rereading, for sure.
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The Once and Future King by T.H. White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This books is very emotionally complex for me. I’ve never liked the Arthurian legend, primarily because of the Arthur, Guinevere (irritatingly spelled Guenever in the book, but pronounced the same) and Lancelot.
The novel started in a way that completely surprised me. The first book of the novel (there are four parts, or books, to the entire novel), the Sword in Stone, was written as a children’s book, with anthropomorphic animals of all kinds that teach the future king lessons in life. The tone of the novel is distinctly geared towards the younger reader, despite Merlyn (again spelled in a way that’s different from what I’m used to) sometimes spewing decidedly adult ideas in adult contexts. This was surprising because I couldn’t reconcile this relatively happy tone with the ridiculously dark events that are coming.
The narrator, and Merlyn as a character, references incidences in the future (in relation to the narrative) and events in the real world, like war and pieces of famous literature that nobody else in the book knows about. Notably, the narrator references the events that happens in Le Morte d’Arthur, and says because it was described in a more detailed fashion there he will in turn just give a cursory mention in this book. It’s very self-aware, and assumes the readers already know the main thread of the story already.
There’s also a part where Merlyn breaks the fourth wall entirely and mentions to Arthur about how they are in a book and the stories that are being written about them are being read at that instant (although I’m unsure if this is this book or Book of Merlyn).
I cannot work my head around to accepting the love triangle, which is one of the core plots of the story. White explains it in a way where the age difference between Arthur and Guenever allows for a different type of love that the one she harbours for Lancelot, which is more romantic love. Arthur, knowing the love between his best friend and his wife, allows it, and handled it by not really questioning this too much. He’s made to worry about the affairs of the world, and is too huge and important to worry about the affairs of the heart. And all this time Lancelot, who supposedly loves Arthur, has no problems turning him into a cuckold, in an affair that lasts decades.
White explains how the society at the time could not have considered divorce as an option, as common as it is in the present world. It’s simply something that isn’t thought about, and he weighs the option of taking such a drastic action as something that may jeopardize the stability of the world he’s trying to build.
Perhaps I need to try to view this in it’s proper context, place it in it’s time and place. Treat it as I would in societies where social norms that are completely alien to me are perfectly acceptable, like sibling marriages or having multiple wives, situations which somehow I have no problems compartmentalizing.
The part about the book is the meditation on war. White is very vocal about this, particularly through Merlyn’s voice. Unequivocal in the stance that nobody should ever under any circumstances wage war against another man, *unless* it is to stop the person who initiated the war itself.
A book I think that needs a repeat read, especially on his treatise on the ideas of justice and might for right.
Yet, until I work out in my head how Arthur could have accepted a cheating wife, I’ll have to stew for a bit before I do reach for this book again.
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