Review : The Once and Future King (T.H White)

43545Title : The Once and Future King
Author : T.H. White
Published : first published in June 1987

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Once upon a time, a young boy called “Wart” was tutored by a magician named Merlyn in preparation for a future he couldn’t possibly imagine. A future in which he would ally himself with the greatest knights, love a legendary queen and unite a country dedicated to chivalrous values. A future that would see him crowned and known for all time as Arthur, King of the Britons.
During Arthur’s reign, the kingdom of Camelot was founded to cast enlightenment on the Dark Ages, while the knights of the Round Table embarked on many a noble quest. But Merlyn foresaw the treachery that awaited his liege: the forbidden love between Queen Guinevere and Lancelot, the wicked plots of Arthur’s half-sister Morgause, and the hatred she fostered in Mordred that would bring an end to the king’s dreams for Britain–and to the king himself

Rating :3starshalf

MAGIC AND UNEXPECTEDLY FUNNY

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• my thoughts •

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“‘We could call them the Knights of the Round Table.’
‘What a good name !’”

 

I know it won’t seem like it, but I absolutely loved this book.

It’s beautifully written, even if I struggled with all the old-English speech (I struggle with ancient-French too, so I think the problem is more on the ‘ancient’ part than on the language itself). The characters are amazingly complex and so ‘touchable’ compared to their usual type. What I mean is that, oftentimes, characters from medieval stories just appear as archetypes : you have the knight, the king, the princess, the peasant … and it never really goes beyond that. So that’s what’s so fun about this ‘recent’ retelling of the story, it’s that the story is more complex and appears more complete. There’s also the fact that the author doesn’t shy away from the magic (mostly present in the first book). Having read Merlin by Robert de Boron, it was absolutely hilarious how they approached magic back then, even the fictional one (I can tell you that Merlin’s magic was always performed where no one could see : I remember a moment when Merlin asks other characters to leave their tent, which they do, then performs his magic – far from the characters’ and the readers’ eyes, by the way – and then tells them that they can re-enter the tent and see the miracle he has performed – it goes on like this for a while …). Merlyn is such a fun and kind character in this story : I loved the little modern references, and his confusion with time (so, obviously, I also prefer book!Merlyn to Disney!Merlin, by the way).
I loved the relationship between young Arthur and Kay, so far from the Disney version, and I wish it’d been explored more after their childhood.

I really, really loved this book, I swear. But …

I’d say that more than half of the book is about Lancelot and Guenever. I love them too, that’s not the problem, and telling their story is also somehow telling Arthur’s, especially since, by that point, he’s the King, and obviously the life of a king is probably not as exciting as the life of a knight.
But damn, I bought this book and I wanted to read it because I wanted Arthur’s story. Even if I liked reading about Lancelot’s and Guenever’s relationship, and consequently, their relationship with Arthur, their little lovers’ affairs and quarrels are a bit tiring. Especially on someone who, may I remind everyone, isn’t a big fan of romance at all.

I loved Lancelot’s character and ambiguity, I loved that chapter about Guenever and how the author made a point to show her as a complex character and didn’t put the blame solely on her for her relationship with Lancelot (and how easy it would have been, so I’m glad the author didn’t go down that road …), I loved how all three of them loved each other (seriously, OT3 !), but I needed more Arthur !

His growth from the first chapter to the end of the book is spectacular, and despite him being there so little, considering, it’s amazing that you can see that progression and his train of thought all through his life.

A truly brilliant story : as magic and as heartbreaking as any good fairytale.

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