The Once and Future King by T.H. White: Book Review

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Cover of The Once and Future King by T. H. White

2 Stars

This is the story of King Arthur, Guenever and Lancelot. I think we all know how that goes.

I’ve been reading this off and on for the past six months. I would start to read it, lose interest, and pick up something more interesting. I finally decided that it was time to either give up on it or finish it because I was tired of it taking up space in my nightstand. That was a good place for it because I couldn’t read more than a chapter or two without falling asleep. That’s not like me at all.

The first part of the book is like the Disney movie, The Sword in the Stone. Should be pretty cool, right? I liked that movie. But this is terrible. The basic plot is the same, but the writing is pretty dense and dry. The author keeps referring to Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. I don’t know if The Once and Future King is supposed to be a “good parts” translation of the first book, but I sort of got the feeling that’s how it worked. Either way, it did feel like a long (677 pages in my edition, to be exact) book report. Can’t you remember those book reports you wrote when you were a kid? “This happened, then this happened, then something else happened, The End.” That’s how this felt. The characters never felt real, the place never felt real, and I never really cared about any of it.

Probably the best parts of the book didn’t even involve the “real” story at all. T. H. White would occasionally go off on tangents about how people and politics really haven’t changed so we shouldn’t think that we’re any better than what we may be tempted to look on as the savages of the Dark Ages. And while I never really felt like any of the characters were real, he did manage to make Sir Lancelot into more than just the hero we all think of him as today. White’s Lancelot is ugly, conflicted, religious, faithful and yet faithless and, of course, the best knight in the world. He should have felt real to me, but he didn’t. Now that I’m really thinking about it, I think the problem for me is that there isn’t much dialogue. It was mostly descriptions of who did what, and I guess that I like conversations in my books. Had there been more dialogue, Lancelot would probably have been an amazing character and the entire book would have been better.

Reviewed April 30, 2008

Read an excerpt.

Read other reviews at The Literary Omnivore, Dead White Guys, and Fyrefly’s Book Blog.

If you liked The Once and Future King, you might also like The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany.

Buy The Once and Future King at

Friday Flashback Reviews, a feature at The Introverted Reader

Friday Flashback Reviews are a weekly feature here on The Introverted Reader. These are old reviews I wrote on GoodReads. Thanks to Angieville and her Retro Friday Reviews for the inspiration and encouragement!

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.

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