The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King by T.H. White is a book listed to be read on the Ambleside Online Year 7 curriculum list. Since I had never read it and wanted to learn more about King Arthur, I decided to read the book for our family’s Back to the Classics Challenge.

The Once and Future King cover

photo via Amazon

It contains 4 stories – The Sword in the Stone (Disney’s movie is based on this one), The Queen of Air and Darkness (about the Orkney Clan – Sirs Gawaine, Gaheris, Agravaine, Gareth, and Mordred) , The Ill-Made Knight (about Lancelot), and The Candle in the Wind.  The stories each deal with an important part of Arthur’s life from beginning to the end.

At first, I really enjoyed it – the scenes with the Wart were fun for the most part, although I was glad when his education was over. I did not enjoy the second book nearly as much, so it took me much longer to read it. It was a relief to start Lancelot’s story. I still struggled to get to the end, but I persevered for two reasons: 1 – I said I’d read it for the challenge and I didn’t want to wimp out on my second book, and 2 – I really was determined to understand more about the different people that have been mentioned in other books that I didn’t really know about. Sir Gawaine and Sir Garath for example.  And it didn’t fully satisfy my curiosity, so I am going to read Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight now. And then the end. What can I say? I cried. Several times. Even though I was sitting in the hospital with my mom while my dad had a procedure done. Embarrassing.

So obviously, the book is set in England – we are even introduced to Robin Hood. The struggle of the people is obvious, and it is with relief that we catch Arthur’s vision for reforming the evils done to people simply because they could. Then, we watch him grapple with what to do with knights who are bored once they accomplished the goal to rid the land of the evil land owners who abused so many people. As he learns and evolves in his understanding of the human condition, he decides that fighting might with might is not always the right way, either. So he sends his Knights of the Round Table on a Quest for the Holy Grail.  That didn’t go exactly like he had hoped either, but he decided that law was the answer. All men could be equal and accountable before written law. As he works to get the laws figured out, nasty intrigue and bitter pettiness start to engulf his Court. I could feel the pathos of the situation for so many of the characters. And, at the end, I cried.

As I thought about this book, I was reminded of the scripture in Esther 4:14 where Esther has the saving of her people on her shoulders and she is asked “…and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Many people have done hard things when faced with that question – and fictional or historical, Arthur was presented with his own version of saving his people.

Still not sure if I would read it again, but I am glad that I finished. How’s that for a recommendation?


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