T. H. White’s The Once and Future King is one of the most complete and unique portrayals of the immortal legend of King Arthur. Though it has been in print for less than half a century, it has already been declared a classic by many, and is often referred to as the “bible” of Arthurian legend. White recreates the epic saga of King Arthur, from his childhood education and experiences until his very death, in a truly insightful and new way. This is not, however, the first complete novel of Arthur’s life. In the fifteenth century, Sir Thomas Malory wrote Morte d’Arthur, the first complete tale of Arthur’s life. Since then, a countless number of books have been written on the subject, yet none can compare to The Once and Future King. It has easily become the most popular of all the Arthurian novels as it is loved by both children and adults. Though similar in many ways to other works of the same subject, such as Malory’s, White gives new details, meanings, and insightful modernization to the story, giving it an earthy quality, which the reader can identify with. White’s rendering of the Arthurian legend differs from the traditional versions in that he includes contemporary knowledge and concepts, adds new stories and characters to the legend, and provides new perspectives by probing deeper into the existing tales.
It is the contemporary tone in The Once and Future King, which gives the novel its present-day feeling. This helps the reader to relate to the story, rather than placing it in strictly within the context of the Arthurian period. For example, early in the novel Eton College is referred to, which White then points out “was not founded until 1440,” but the place was nevertheless “of the same sort”(4). Another example of anachronism can be found during a discussion between Merlyn and Wart, when Merlyn exclaims “Castor and Pollux blow me to Bermuda!” (86). During the days of Arthur, Bermuda was an unknown place, and would not be discovered until the fifteenth century. Though these references have no true significance to the plot of the story, White uses anachronism as a device to aid the reader in association with the context. And, as in other of White’s novels, “the author’s presence is apparent” (Fries 260), giving the feeling of an oral storytelling. These “almost too frequent histori…
… often” (28). This depiction of Merlyn shows his amusing and funny personality, which White exposes throughout the novel. The frequent use of comedy gives White’s novel a unique twist which cannot be found in the traditional versions of the story.
When T. H. White decided to write The Once and Future King, he realized that his task would be an ambitious one. He faced the challenge of telling a tale which has been present for centuries, in a new way which would make it of interest to readers. His recreation of the Arthurian legend more than lives up to that challenge. The addition of new themes, anachronism, characters such as King Pellinore, and new adventures gives the novel a unique flair without straying too far from the traditional legend. The deeper interpretations of the characters and events in the story provide for a truth and authenticity not to be found in similar works, and the sense of humor gives White’s novel an individual touch. T. H. White’s The Once and Future King is one of the best retellings of the Arthurian legend, and his additions to the tale create an invigorating and entertaining combination, ranking it among the most popular and best read of all.