Review – The Sword in the Stone

The Sword in the Stone (The Once and Future King No.1) – T.H. White

HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2008

Originally published in 1938

Growing up in the castle of the Forest Sauvage, the boy known as the Wart and his foster brother Kay are expected to learn about everything from literature and geography to hawking and swordplay. One day the Wart loses a hawk and finds a tutor – and the wizard Merlyn, it turns out, takes an unconventional approach to teaching. He’d rather turn the Wart into a bird than explain the anatomy of one, and prefers going to see a real giant rather than just hearing stories. But the biggest adventure of all is one the Wart could never have imagined.

This is the first book in T.H. White’s classic children’s series, which somehow I completely missed reading while growing up. Since I am researching Arthuriana this year for Ladies of Legend, it seemed a good time to read The Sword in the Stone. For some reason I didn’t expect it to be quite so silly – it took me a little while to fall into T.H. White’s world, but his breezily cheerful anachronisms and adorably ridiculous cast of characters made it easy to see why The Sword in the Stone is so beloved. There is a bit of racism, mostly the casual use of outdated terminology in a patronising or parochial way – including one very weird distortion of the word ‘Ethiopian’ in a totally inappropriate context – but the story was considerably less sexist than I expected.

The series continues with The Witch in the Wood. I’m undecided on whether I’ll keep reading – it’s hard to see how you could sidestep the bloody baggage of the legends, making them child-friendly, and still keep the spirit of them – but at the same time, I admit I’d kind of like to see him try.

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