Sunday, September 14, 2008

'the sword in the stone'

Evangeline has been reading "The Sword in the Stone," by T.H. White, which (as its title would imply) is about King Arthur.

I snagged the book for her a few days ago on in one of those absolutely perfect bits of fathering. Evangeline hadn't requested the book, but I felt she should read it, so I got it. White's treatment of Arthur, which he continues in "The Once and Future King," is one of my favorite renderings of the legend.

"The Sword in the Stone" shows White at his finest, creatively speaking. His depiction of life in the Forest Savage and of Arthur's entire childhood with Sir Ector and Kay is entirely his, and it's filled with such attention to detail and wry wit that I figure it's bound to launch in her the same lifelong love of Arthurian lore that I've had, but at an earlier start.

I've read her Tennyson's "The Coming of Arthur," and she's read a few of those kiddie storybooks that purport to be about Arthur but really say nothing particularly Arthurian, but this is the real thing.

It starts around the time Arthur is around seven or eight, still unaware of his parentage, and living in the care of Sir Ector. The book is riddled with memorable characters like Sir Grummore and King Pellinore, what; charming buffoons like the sergeant-at-arms with his heaving chest and the nurse who fusses over everyone; and (of course) Merlyn.

During the course of the book, Merlyn teaches Arthur by changing him into animals, all with an eye on the day when Arthur will be crowned king and will have the chance to inaugurate a golden age where Might fights for Right, rather than making right.

"The Once and Future King" was White's treatise on pacifism, as well as his exploration of the triumphs and failings of government, and you see a lot of this in "The Sword in the Stone." Arthur has a miserable time among the ants who are preparing for war; and falls in love with life among the geese, for whom war is a completely foreign concept. (Both stories appropriated from White's final and least impressive Arthurian work, "The Book of Merlyn.")

Every experience Arthur has as animal also shows him the danger of the mighty, such as the pike who tries to eat him in Sir Ector's moat, or mad Cully who nearly pins him with his talons when Arthur overnights as a merlin with the other raptors. (Probably my favorite passage in the book.)

Evangeline's not as far as all that. She just got to the part where Arthur has met Madam Mim in the Forest Savage and is looking at an untimely end if Merlyn doesn't show up. Which, of course, he will.

So it's off to a good start. If she enjoys this book as much as she seems to be so far, I suppose I'll have to let read "The Once and Future King," and then lend her my copy of Steinbeck's rendition, not to mention Geoffrey of Monmouth and old Sir Thomas Mallory too. And then there's my "Camelot" soundtrack ...

Copyright © 2008 by David Learn. Used with permission.

Psst! I totally stole this from Brucker.

No comments: