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The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Content last modified November 1991


T.H. White was born in Bombay, India, in 1906. When he was six his quarreling parents sent him to England to begin his education. Thereafter, the British Isles were his home.

In 1928 White was graduated with distinction from Queens' College, Cambridge, and began to write. By the mid-1930s he had published several books, including poetry under his own name and novels under the pseudonym James Aston. He was head of the English Department at Stowe school when he left the teaching profession at the age of thirty to concentrate on his writing.

Although he had once written a thesis on Malory's Morte d'Arthur, it was several years before White read the book. He was astonished at the depth and the humanity of its characters and was inspired to write his own interpretation of the legend of King Arthur. The first volume, The Sword in the Stone, appeared in 1938. It was a mixture of modern idiom and traditional motif and was followed by The Witch in the Wood, later called The Queen of Air and Darkness, in 1939 and The Ill-Made Knight in 1940. The books are satire, graced with wit, but underlying the lightness of comedy and fantasy is the element of tragedy. They are philosophically concerned with right and might, and they express White's conviction that people are basically good but do not know how to direct their power toward positive ends.

In 1958 the omnibus Once and Future King appeared. A compilation of the three previous books plus an unpublished fourth, The Candle in the Wind, it became a bestseller. The book was adapted for the stage as Camelot in 1960 and followed by the film Camelot in 1967. The Sword in the Stone, another adaptation, was a Walt Disney film in 1963.

White died in Greece in 1964. The Book of Merlyn, published posthumously in 1977, is the conclusion to The Once and Future King.

Following is a list of the contents of The Once and Future King and its sequel in the order that they should be read, as given in the Wilson Fiction Catalog 1980. The original dates of publication are given. All of the books listed are available from NLS network library collections.

The Sword in the Stone

Young Arthur, called Wart, is educated in the rituals and pursuits of medieval court life and is found deserving to be king. 1938

RC 19285

BRA 54

The Queen of Air and Darkness (originally titled The Witch in the Wood)

Wart is now the adult Arthur seeking to establish himself among the other kings, but Queen Morgause, Arthur's half sister, and her four sons are the focus of this second book. 1939

RC 19286

The Ill-Made Knight

The story of Sir Lancelot--his youth, his quests, and his relationship with Elaine--becomes dominated by the love triangle he shares with Arthur and Guenever. 1940

RC 19287

The Candle in the Wind

Arthur ignores the evil and deceit around him. Camelot disintegrates and Arthur is finally separated from Lancelot and Guenever. Arthur's reflections on human nature, near the end of his life, bring the tetralogy to a close. 1958

RC 19288

The Book of Merlyn

An aged and weary King Arthur sits alone in his tent at Salisbury awaiting his last battle. Merlyn comes to renew their master-pupil relationship and to assure Arthur that legend will perpetuate the story of the Round Table. He invites Arthur to dream as he had when he was the boy Wart. 1977

RD 11179

Compiled by Ellie Friedman
Revised by Joyce Y. Carter

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Posted on 2014-12-02