The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White
4 stars – I liked it; it was good
This is a shorter novel that’s sort of a prequel to the legends of King Arthur and the Round Table.
Read while I was on vacation in Mexico.
Read: Jan. 13 – Jan. 24, 2023.
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The Wart (to rhyme with Art) is a young boy living with Sir Ector and Kay, and after the last governess leaves, he and Kay are in need of a new tutor. He finds Merlyn, a magician who lives in the woods of the Forest Sauvage, and Merlyn agrees to be his tutor. Little does the Wart know, Merlyn is much moe involved in his life than he originally thought.
The thing I think I most love about this book is how it’s written. The tone is quite casual, and it’s interesting because even though the book is set in Arthurian times, there are references to things all the way up to 1938, when the book was written. This is because, unlike other people, Merlyn lives backwards. He was born in the future, and lives through time opposite to everything else (meaning as the story goes on and the Wart grows up, Merlyn is getting younger). He might also be immortal, because he references things like indoor plumbing and has all sorts of knickknacks from the future. This allows the book to make anachronistic references in the narrative and let Merlyn speak of such things too. It’s funny when the other characters are confused by what he says.
I was a bit impatient while reading this book, though. It’s written like a children’s book, which I assume it is, because the writing is very simple and easy to understand. Even so, I kept waiting for the actual sword in the stone to be at least mentioned, not remembering that it happens at the very end, and the rest of the book leading up to that is just the lessons that Merlyn is teaching the Wart up until then. Wart meets people like King Pellinore and Little John and Robin Wood (Hood from rumours), and even gets captured by Madam Mim, a witch who wants to eat him and Kay.
There are many magical hijinks and shenanigans that I enjoyed, including a wizards’ duel, animal transformations, and travelling to different places.
Kay (later Sir Kay) is an interesting character who is kind of snooty, but that’s just because he is the son of a knight and will become one when he grows up, while Wart will be his squire. He is overconfident in his abilities and his ego is quite large, but I like his character progression. Wart’s character growth isn’t so much emotionally as it is intellectually, since he doesn’t feel all that different from start to end, and I think that’s for the best. The adults around them (King Pellinore, Sir Ector, Sir Grummore) are a bit silly, which makes for some appreciated humour in the story.
I will say that the version of the book that I read, the 1982 version from William Collins Sons & Co, had quite a few typos that bothered me, though not so much as to impede my understanding of the work.
Otherwise, I enjoyed the adventures that Wart went on with Merlin, becoming a variety of different animals and making new acquaintances, friends, and enemies along the his journey of knowledge. There is a six-year time gap somewhere near the end, and while I would’ve liked to know all that he learned during those years, I feel that the book was long enough with his childhood adventures.
I am still trying to wrap my head around the concept that Merlyn lives backwards, because he references things from the future that he obviously knows, but there are times that he references things from the past (his future) and other times when he seems clueless about what happened. I am unsure if he can just see snippets of those things, or if the author merely forgot at times to keep what he knows/doesn’t know consistent. It didn’t affect the story in any big way; it’s just something that got my thinking.
I recommend this book to parents for bedtime reading book to their kid(s), but it’s also entertaining for older readers who want to experience the story if they haven’t before.
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