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The Sword in the Stone – T. H. White

20 Feb

47-1For those of you who don’t want a complete plot summary in the synopsis avoid the below brightly coloured writing, I will say though that the plot and its inevitability is secondary to the whimsical nature of the story.

Probably only the magician, Merlyn, knew that his pupil, the Wart (to rhyme with “Art”) would one day be the great King Arthur.

For six years Merlyn was the boy’s tutor and the Wart learned all manner of useful things; such as what it is like to be a fish or a hawk or a badger.

Then the King Pendragon died without heirs.  And King Pellinore arrived at the court with an extraordinary story of a sword stuck in an anvil, stuck to a stone outside a church in London.  Written on the sword in gold letters with the words Whoso Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil is Rightwise King Born of All England.

The last person anybody expected to pull out the sword was the Wart but then he had had Merlyn as his tutor for six years…

Having grown up with the Disney film, I couldn’t leave this book resting unloved on the shelves of a second-hand bookshop, I assumed a fun and magical tale which would provide some escapism and nothing more than an amusing diversion.  It did more than that, it made me smile and introduced to me to some really big words as well.

What sets this story apart from other Children’s books is its denseness, by which I mean the number of interesting facts and the language, which add layers to the nature of its plot.  It has all of these in abundance and is a book that adults will enjoy as much as children.

I say plot, it’s a less a singular story rather a selection of scenes which offer lessons about nature and life lessons to the character of The Wart (to rhyme with Art, of course).  In fact the title is almost an afterthought but that makes sense as the understanding and attachment to Wart has to be built for the books that are to follow, this being book one in a series of five.

For children, there is am amiable story, which is a different take on the parentless boy coming of age being around magic theme and it is perhaps no surprise that J. K. Rowling cites this book as one of the inspirations for the ‘arry Potter series.  The world is populated with comical and eccentric characters and religion, nature and time are all touched upon in the adventures, it is a book that will certainly intrigue the younger mind with the mysteries of the world and its philosophies..

For us adults, the book has dual appeal of allowing us to relive those days of carefree discovery as well as welcoming our experience of life.  Apart from the obvious nods to Arthurian lore, including one joust scene that really should have been included in le Morte d’ Arthur, there are such time bending references made to, amongst other things Bolsheviks littered all over the place as well as liberal sprinklings of Gods, literature and myth that bring a depth to proceedings.

There is much typically English whimsy to be had but for me the stand out bit of the book is Merlyn, a character travelling backwards through time, who frequently gets charmingly confused about what has and hasn’t happened.  The whole book seems out of time with itself but when I consider Merlyn as he lives backwards (yet each day forwards), I wonder does he create what will come to pass in the future which he has already lived and possibly already influenced?  Yet can he influence something that has already happened in his past (the future) if he hasn’t lived his future (the past)?  The whole thing seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy so does he create any of it?

A book for all ages then, something that can be reread and something new noticed each time.  It’ s a wonderful jaunt with lots of humour and a peaceful feel but also an element of danger, the only minor niggle I had was that it felt a little stodgy in places and a bit more editing would have been nice.

Having said that, do check which edition of the book you are picking up.  I usually research Children’s books that were written in shall we say less enlightened times and whilst I appreciate some edits are necessary, there seems to have been a fair amount cut out in regards to some of the descriptions and details, in modern versions.  Also some stories appear in some,  that are watered down in others.  The version I have was published in 1971 (not the one pictured as that cover eluded me) and I would be inclined to think the older the copy the better (the original was printed in 1938).

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35 Comments

Posted by on 20/02/2015 in Children's Literature

 

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35 responses to “The Sword in the Stone – T. H. White

  1. Elizabeth Melton Parsons

    20/02/2015 at 14:01

    One of my favorites. 🙂

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      22/02/2015 at 15:39

      I am quite annoyed it took me this long to discover its delights.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  2. Alastair Savage

    20/02/2015 at 14:05

    I had no idea that TH White had been censored for modern audiences. That’s an eye-opener. Another great review, sir!

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    • Ste J

      22/02/2015 at 16:18

      White is censored less than say, Enid Blyton and it isn’t a deal breaker in terms of enjoyment, it is just sad that such things happen really, I get comments that are now deemed racist but some of these decisions are just a little too ridiculous.

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  3. readinpleasure

    20/02/2015 at 17:39

    I rather liked the story of King Arthur, all the shades, you know when growing up. I believed them to be true and my lonely soul yearned for all the glory surrounding the adventurism. Lol! 🙂

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    • Ste J

      22/02/2015 at 16:20

      There is something rousing about the Arthurian legends, the striving for purity, the epic nature of the quests and the noble knights. I like to think they are true still and that such events happened, but then again I am an old romantic!

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      • writersideup

        23/02/2015 at 02:03

        Oh, I don’t know, Ste J…you look like a relatively young romantic to me 😉

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  4. Chelsea Brown

    20/02/2015 at 22:21

    I always loved that story, and it does indeed seem like a whimsical read.

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    • Ste J

      22/02/2015 at 16:11

      I like things to be a little…anarchical and Merlyn is the best teacher ever. You wouldn’t get these days without having to pay large insurance premiums!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  5. gargoylebruce

    20/02/2015 at 23:08

    You can never have too much English whimsy.

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    • Ste J

      22/02/2015 at 15:43

      This is true, I like to have a bit every day with me tea.

      Like

       
  6. writersideup

    21/02/2015 at 04:06

    Sadly, the version I have of this book is relatively new, being part of the “Classics” put out by Barnes & Noble. I’ve yet to read it though, like so many other books! This makes me want to, though. I wonder when!

    I didn’t know it was one of the books that inspired J. K. Rowling, but it’s obvious now that you mention it. I also didn’t know it was part of a series. I was always drawn to this story (and all things Camelot/medieval), my first introduction to wizards and such also through the Disney film, also, which I own, of course lol Love this, Ste J 🙂

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      22/02/2015 at 16:07

      The modern day changing of stories does get tiresome, I can understand it when racist terms are taken out, for example but some of the decisions publishers make are just plain daft. I am not sure what the modern version of the book has in regards to the tales that were changed /watered down but nevertheless those parts are relatively short so should not ruin your enjoyment.

      When I found about about J. K. I knew you would be interested and like you I wasn’t aware it was a series of books until I read the synopsis for the next one, handily placed at the back of the book. I like this book as Le Morte d’ Arthur skates over young Arthur whereas this one really fleshes him out.

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      • writersideup

        23/02/2015 at 02:01

        I just looked and I was wrong. I don’t have THE SWORD IN THE STONE. The book I have here is THE STORY OF KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS : /

        Like

         
        • Ste J

          23/02/2015 at 09:05

          That is a positive, now you know you have another book to hunt out and enjoy on top of that one, everyone’s a winner!

          Like

           
  7. Liz Dexter

    21/02/2015 at 14:41

    Ooh – it you get the full set of books in the trilogy, there’s some HORRIBLE stuff in the later ones that I will never forget. Still have my 70s copy, however!

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      22/02/2015 at 15:41

      I look forward to seeking out the rest and getting my ‘grim’ on as it were. it will be an interesting contrast to the nature of this book.

      Like

       
  8. Christy Birmingham

    21/02/2015 at 21:38

    I read the book about ten years ago and loved it. Like you, I had seen the animated film first. I heard a rumor that Merlyn is a little choked at all of the attention Harry Potter has been getting lately!

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      22/02/2015 at 16:01

      Haha, you would have thought he would have seen that coming! Any man that chews his own beard definitely deserves more recognition.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Christy Birmingham

        22/02/2015 at 17:54

        Okay just laughed out loud at my computer screen! Yup, got to give credit where credit is due.

        Like

         
  9. Letizia

    22/02/2015 at 23:00

    I remember this being in our household as a child. Did I read it? I don’t know. Perhaps it was my brothers. Hmm, foggy memories. But the title is so familiar, so connected to vague childhood memories. The smell of biscuits.

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    • Ste J

      23/02/2015 at 09:28

      Memories, rereads, new reads, there are so many good things about your words. I would say this would look good on the book cover of the next reprint.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  10. Theanne aka magnoliamoonpie

    23/02/2015 at 01:40

    I read this a long time ago…long enough ago that a reread would not be amiss 🙂 And I’ve started Flatlands…only the first page 🙂 but I’m interested enough to want to keep reading 🙂

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      23/02/2015 at 09:12

      Excellent, I look forward to your thoughts on it!

      Like

       
  11. vsvevg

    25/02/2015 at 02:36

    I used to sell children’s books, and I specialized in YA. I sold many copies of the The Sword and of course have read it, though it has been several years. Your review put a smile on my face, it’s very astute and helped me remember much of what I had forgotten. My favorite parts were the shape shifting scenes. Thanks for dusting off this great read for me.

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    • Ste J

      25/02/2015 at 19:54

      I loved the shape shifting scenes and also the jousting scene which was so comical, it could have been from Monty Python. I am glad I could remind you of such a good book, I do love to do that as well as introduce people to new adventures. I’m glad you found the review satisfactory, it is good to know that I have done it justice.

      Like

       
  12. LuAnn

    01/03/2015 at 00:46

    This is a book I had on my bookshelf, when I had a house with a bookshelf, but sadly never picked it up. Your wonderful review will have me ordering this post-haste. 🙂

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      01/03/2015 at 20:32

      It is strange how we leave books on the shelf for years and never read them despite the delights they may contain. I think it is another book you will enjoy and look forward to hearing your thoughts on.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  13. shadowoperator

    01/03/2015 at 21:10

    “Book one in a series of five”? Do tell, do tell! What were the other five titles? I assume one of them must have been “The Once and Future King,” Also, are you telling me that T. H. White had racist or ethnocentric words or notions in his books? That surprises me, mainly because my brother (who is a real stickler for “political correctness,” as it was dubbed by the right but has been called by all for lack of a better term) has had my 11-year-old nephew reading it! I know I guess without even asking that they must’ve been reading one of the Bowdlerized versions (meaning the “cleaned-up” ones), because he would never have my nephew read something that featured what you are suggesting. That’s really a shame! I really wanted to read it after I heard them reading aloud together, because my brother does all the accents and voices when he reads to my nephew, and we all listen together as a family. I didn’t hear anything untoward during that time, but then I wasn’t there for the whole series of readings. Anyway, did you know that J. R. R. Tolkien had been accused of the same sort of thing, though in a milder way, I’m sure? I still remember encountering a young pink-haired lady (in ’80 or ’81, before pink hair had hit the mainstream) on a bus to Toronto, and she and I were talking about J. R. R. and she said that he was definitely ethnocentric at the very least, because he made his “Southren” (or Southern) men to resemble Southern Europeans or Mediterranean folk, and they were supposedly evil, whereas all of the good guys were of the Northern races. I think he was just being a little bit ethnocentric in the sense that he was an expert in the Northern myths, and was glorifying those at the expense of other cultures, who knows how deliberately or absent-mindedly. I do know that he was writing “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” to entertain a son who was away fighting WWII, or something like that. His books came out in a revised version too, but even though I read both of them, I was probably too young to notice the difference. I doubt that it was as marked as what you are suggesting of T. H. White. Anyway, I would like to read even a Bowdlerized version (or especially one) to see what it’s all about; I never realized it was one of five.

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      01/03/2015 at 21:25

      I believe The Once and Future King is the final book in the series, or perhaps it is the name of the series. I haven’t really looked to deep into the next books for fear of spoilers, I do like to let books settle before I hunt the next one out. From what I gather the censoring that went on is mainly for the N word which I suppose back in the day wouldn’t have been seen as overtly racist but that has all been changed and edited out, I am unsure when the editing came in though, it all sounds convoluted from my skim reading of the subject. I know you will get a kick out of reading it and the rest of them I’ll warrant.

      I knew Tolkien based his map on Europe but I think it is a nice change around to have the southerners as the bad ones as opposed to the northerners which is usually the case in most books. Revised editions…now you have me wondering which I have read, why have books suddenly become complicated!

      Like

       
  14. RoSy

    09/03/2015 at 01:35

    Sounds like something I will pick up for the girls & me. How great that there would be a book that we can all enjoy & have to talk about?
    Thanks SteJ 🙂

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      10/03/2015 at 19:30

      It is rare for a book to be truly appealing to all but they are generally the best books, ones that stay in a family until they fall apart and then still not parted with. I hope it brings you gals a lot of joy.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  15. Lucy

    21/04/2016 at 14:23

    I haven’t read this for years! T. H. White’s ‘Goshawk’ is frequently mentioned in Helen Macdonald’s ‘H is for Hawk’ and shows him in a misguided – but not cruel – light, and made me want to learn more about him.

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      21/04/2016 at 18:17

      I hear good things about H is for Hawk but the blurb didn’t grab me which means sleepless nights as I wonder what I could be missing. White’s work is always fun and varied. Teach me what you learn!

      Liked by 1 person

       

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