Tuesday, April 5, 2022

1000 Books Project: The Once and Future King - Discussion One


Finally! I finished the first book in this tome, The Sword in the Stone. I know that White wrote Sword in the Stone as a stand alone novel for children, but revised it for inclusion in The Once and Future King. It certainly is not wholly the story I remember from watching the Disney film of the same name as a child, though it did give me glimpses of the animated film in some parts of the story. I particularly remembered the parts from the film where Merlyn turned Wart into various animals. 

In this article on Vox, it was interesting to read that The Sword in the Stone is political. Wart is transformed into these different animals and visits their communities (habitats?) to see how things are run. I remember thinking that this was Merlyn's way of grooming Wart (because, of course, we already know who he is) for his future role, especially at the parts about the geese and the badger. I was particularly struck by this quote from Badger:
"True warfare is what happens between bands of the same species. Out of the hundreds of thousands of species, I can only think of seven which are belligerent. Even Man has a few varieties like the Esquimaux and the Gypsies and the Lapps and certain Nomads in Arabia, who do not do it, because they do not claim boundaries. True warfare is rarer in Nature than cannibalism."
The article also states that White reportedly wrote the book as an act of resistance against Hitler, in response to World War II and its horrors.
"Via the didactic figure of Merlyn, White argues that war is necessary to stop atrocities, and that if you are fairly well assured of your own safety — that is, if you are wealthy enough to have armor and a horse in Arthur’s day, or a plum field position in World War II — war can be deeply satisfying, even fun. He argues that mankind is inextricably drawn to violence, but also that all wars are terrible and evil."

This attitude was highly evident as I was reading. 

A disturbing thing to discover in the reading was the presence of some racist terms. I won't name them here, but if you Google it, you can find out. The use of Gypsies in Badger's quote above as well. The Vox article (written in 2017) states that "The Once and Future King is still the best King Arthur story out there" and I won't argue with that, though I did find it strange that these terms were not mentioned in the article. Oddly enough, this quote shows up near the end of The Sword in the Stone, after Arthur becomes king...

"They were sick of the anarchy which had been their portion under Uther Pendragon: sick of overlords and feudal giants, of knights who did what they pleased, of racial discrimination, and of the rule of Might as Right.”
Racial discrimination? This does not sound like White was a racist. So, were the words used as a product of his time? I did read in the article that White was a very conflicted individual (more on that as we get further into the book, and discussions on Lancelot) so it's really hard to say. I would need to delve more deeply into his life, which I may do, as his life does sound quite interesting. 

All this being said, as I got closer and closer to Wart, aka Arthur, drawing the sword from the stone, I became more and more excited. The King Arthur legend has always been my favorite of all stories. It still holds the same thrall as it did when I was in 7th grade, seeing Excalibur for the first time. Life changing. On that note, I think it's time for a long overdue rewatch (though I can't count how many times I've seen it). Many, many times. 

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What did you think of The Sword in the Stone? Share any and all thoughts in the comments.

This month's schedule:
April: The Queen of Air and Darkness, Ch 1 - 14, pp. 201 - 300
Discussion April 30 (I apologize if I'm sometimes late with discussion posts. Life gets in the way at times.)


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