The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King

by T. H. White

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T. H. White’s masterful retelling of the saga of King Arthur is a fantasy classic as legendary as Excalibur and Camelot, and a poignant story of adventure, romance, and magic that has enchanted readers for generations.
Once upon a time, a young boy called “Wart” was tutored by a magician named Merlyn in preparation for a future he couldn’t possibly imagine. A future in which he would ally himself with the greatest knights, love a legendary queen and unite a country dedicated to chivalrous values. A future that would see him crowned and known for all time as Arthur, King of the Britons.
During Arthur’s reign, the kingdom of Camelot was founded to cast enlightenment on the Dark Ages, while the knights of the Round Table embarked on many a noble quest. But Merlyn foresaw the treachery that awaited his liege: the forbidden love between Queen Guenever and Lancelot, the wicked plots of Arthur’s half-sister Morgause and the hatred she fostered in Mordred that would bring an end to the king’s dreams for Britain—and to the king himself.

“[The Once and Future King] mingles wisdom, wonderful, laugh-out-loud humor and deep sorrow—while telling one of the great tales of the Western world.”Guy Gavriel Kay

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101657546
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/01/2011
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 656
Sales rank: 7,531
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

T. H. White is the author of the classic Arthurian fantasy The Once and Future King, among other works.

Read an Excerpt


On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays it was Court Hand and Summulae Logicales, while the rest of the week it was the Organon, Repetition and Astrology. The governess was always getting muddled with her astrolabe, and when she got specially muddled she would take it out of the Wart by rapping his knuckles. She did not rap Kay’s knuckles, because when Kay grew older he would be Sir Kay, the master of the estate. The Wart was called the Wart because it more or less rhymed with Art, which was short for his real name. Kay had given him the nickname. Kay was not called anything but Kay, as he was too dignified to have a nickname and would have flown into a passion if anybody had tried to give him one. The governess had red hair and some mysterious wound from which she derived a lot of prestige by showing it to all the women of the castle, behind closed doors. It was believed to be where she sat down, and to have been caused by sitting on some armour at a picnic by mistake. Eventually she offered to show it to Sir Ector, who was Kay’s father, had hysterics and was sent away. They found out afterwards that she had been in a lunatic hospital for three years.

In the afternoons the programme was: Mondays and Fridays, tilting and horsemanship; Tuesdays, hawking; Wednesdays, fencing; Thursdays, archery; Saturdays, the theory of chivalry, with the proper measures to be blown on all occasions, terminology of the chase and hunting etiquette. If you did the wrong thing at the mort or the undoing, for instance, you were bent over the body of the dead beast and smacked with the flat side of a sword. This was called being bladed. It was horseplay, a sort of joke like being shaved when crossing the line. Kay was not bladed, although he often went wrong.

When they had got rid of the governess, Sir Ector said, “After all, damn it all, we can’t have the boys runnin’ about all day like hooligans—after all, damn it all? Ought to be havin’ a first-rate eddication, at their age. When I was their age I was doin’ all this Latin and stuff at five o’clock every mornin’. Happiest time of me life. Pass the port.”

Sir Grummore Grummursum, who was staying the night because he had been benighted out questin’ after a specially long run, said that when he was their age he was swished every mornin’ because he would go hawkin’ instead of learnin’. He attributed to this weakness the fact that he could never get beyond the Future Simple of Utor. It was a third of the way down the left-hand leaf, he said. He thought it was leaf ninety-seven. He passed the port.

Sir Ector said, “Had a good quest today?”

Sir Grummore said, “Oh, not so bad. Rattlin’ good day, in fact. Found a chap called Sir Bruce Saunce Pité choppin’ off a maiden’s head in Weedon Bushes, ran him to Mixbury Plantation in the Bicester, where he doubled back, and lost him in Wicken Wood. Must have been a good twenty-five miles as he ran.”

“A straight-necked ’un,” said Sir Ector.

“But about these boys and all this Latin and that,” added the old gentleman. “Amo, amas, you know, and runnin’ about like hooligans: what would you advise?”

“Ah,” said Sir Grummore, laying his finger by his nose and winking at the bottle, “that takes a deal of thinkin’ about, if you don’t mind my sayin’ so.”

“Don’t mind at all,” said Sir Ector. “Very kind of you to say anythin’. Much obliged, I’m sure. Help yourself to port.”

“Good port this.”

“Get it from a friend of mine.”

“But about these boys,” said Sir Grummore. “How many of them are there, do you know?”

“Two,” said Sir Ector, “counting them both, that is.”

“Couldn’t send them to Eton, I suppose?” inquired Sir Grummore cautiously. “Long way and all that, we know.”

It was not really Eton that he mentioned, for the College of Blessed Mary was not founded until 1440, but it was a place of the same sort. Also they were drinking Metheglyn, not port, but by mentioning the modern wine it is easier to give you the feel.

“Isn’t so much the distance,” said Sir Ector, “but that giant What’s-’is-name is in the way. Have to pass through his country, you understand.”

“What is his name?”

“Can’t recollect it at the moment, not for the life of me. Fellow that lives by the Burbly Water.”

“Galapas,” said Sir Grummore.

“That’s the very chap.”

“The only other thing,” said Sir Grummore, “is to have a tutor.”

“You mean a fellow who teaches you.”

“That’s it,” said Sir Grummore. “A tutor, you know, a fellow who teaches you.”

“Have some more port,” said Sir Ector. “You need it after all this questin’.”

“Splendid day,” said Sir Grummore. “Only they never seem to kill nowadays. Run twenty-five miles and then mark to ground or lose him altogether. The worst is when you start a fresh quest.”

“We kill all our giants cubbin’,” said Sir Ector. “After that they give you a fine run, but get away.”

“Run out of scent,” said Sir Grummore, “I dare say. It’s always the same with these big giants in a big country. They run out of scent.”

“But even if you was to have a tutor,” said Sir Ector, “I don’t see how you would get him.”

“Advertise,” said Sir Grummore.

“I have advertised,” said Sir Ector. “It was cried by the Humberland Newsman and Cardoile Advertiser.”

“The only other way,” said Sir Grummore, “is to start a quest.”

“You mean a quest for a tutor,” explained Sir Ector.

“That’s it.”

“Hic, Haec, Hoc,” said Sir Ector. “Have some more of this drink, whatever it calls itself.”

“Hunc,” said Sir Grummore.

So it was decided. When Grummore Grummursum had gone home next day, Sir Ector tied a knot in his handkerchief to remember to start a quest for a tutor as soon as he had time to do so, and, as he was not sure how to set about it, he told the boys what Sir Grummore had suggested and warned them not to be hooligans meanwhile. Then they went hay-making.

It was July, and every able-bodied man and woman on the estate worked during that month in the field, under Sir Ector’s direction. In any case the boys would have been excused from being eddicated just then.

Sir Ector’s castle stood in an enormous clearing in a still more enormous forest. It had a courtyard and a moat with pike in it. The moat was crossed by a fortified stone bridge which ended half-way across it. The other half was covered by a wooden drawbridge which was wound up every night. As soon as you had crossed the drawbridge you were at the top of the village street—it had only one street—and this extended for about half a mile, with thatched houses of wattle and daub on either side of it. The street divided the clearing into two huge fields, that on the left being cultivated in hundreds of long narrow strips, while that on the right ran down to a river and was used as pasture. Half of the right-hand field was fenced off for hay.

It was July, and real July weather, such as they had in Old England. Everybody went bright brown, like Red Indians, with startling teeth and flashing eyes. The dogs moved about with their tongues hanging out, or lay panting in bits of shade, while the farm horses sweated through their coats and flicked their tails and tried to kick the horse-flies off their bellies with their great hind hoofs. In the pasture field the cows were on the gad, and could be seen galloping about with their tails in the air, which made Sir Ector angry.

Sir Ector stood on the top of a rick, whence he could see what everybody was doing, and shouted commands all over the two-hundred-acre field, and grew purple in the face. The best mowers mowed away in a line where the grass was still uncut, their scythes roaring in the strong sunlight. The women raked the dry hay together in long strips with wooden rakes, and the two boys with pitchforks followed up on either side of the strip, turning the hay inwards so that it lay well for picking up. Then the great carts followed, rumbling with their spiked wooden wheels, drawn by horses or slow white oxen. One man stood on top of the cart to receive the hay and direct operations, while one man walked on either side picking up what the boys had prepared and throwing it to him with a fork. The cart was led down the lane between two lines of hay, and was loaded in strict rotation from the front poles to the back, the man on top calling out in a stern voice where he wanted each fork to be pitched. The loaders grumbled at the boys for not having laid the hay properly and threatened to tan them when they caught them, if they got left behind.

When the wagon was loaded, it was drawn to Sir Ector’s rick and pitched to him. It came up easily because it had been loaded systematically—not like modern hay—and Sir Ector scrambled about on top, getting in the way of his assistants, who did the real work, and stamping and perspiring and scratching about with his fork and trying to make the rick grow straight and shouting that it would all fall down as soon as the west winds came.

The Wart loved hay-making, and was good at it. Kay, who was two years older, generally stood on the edge of the bundle which he was trying to pick up, with the result that he worked twice as hard as the Wart for only half the result. But he hated to be beaten at anything, and used to fight away with the wretched hay—which he loathed like poison—until he was quite sick.

The day after Sir Grummore’s visit was sweltering for the men who toiled from milking to milking and then again till sunset in their battle with the sultry element. For the hay was an element to them, like sea or air, in which they bathed and plunged themselves and which they even breathed in. The seeds and small scraps stuck in their hair, their mouths, their nostrils, and worked, tickling, inside their clothes. They did not wear many clothes, and the shadows between their sliding muscles were blue on the nut-brown skins. Those who feared thunder had felt ill that morning.

In the afternoon the storm broke. Sir Ector kept them at it till the great flashes were right overhead, and then, with the sky as dark as night, the rain came hurling against them so that they were drenched at once and could not see a hundred yards. The boys lay crouched under the wagons, wrapped in hay to keep their wet bodies warm against the now cold wind, and all joked with one another while heaven fell. Kay was shivering, though not with cold, but he joked like the others because he would not show he was afraid. At the last and greatest thunderbolt every man startled involuntarily, and each saw the other startle, until they laughed away their shame.

But that was the end of the hay-making and the beginning of play. The boys were sent home to change their clothes. The old dame who had been their nurse fetched dry jerkins out of a press, and scolded them for catching their deaths, and denounced Sir Ector for keeping on so long. Then they slipped their heads into the laundered shirts, and ran out to the refreshed and sparkling court.

“I vote we take Cully and see if we can get some rabbits in the chase,” cried the Wart.

“The rabbits will not be out in this wet,” said Kay sarcastically, delighted to have caught him over natural history.

“Oh, come on. It will soon be dry.”

“I must carry Cully, then.”

Kay insisted on carrying the goshawk and flying her, when they went hawking together. This he had a right to do, not only because he was older than the Wart but also because he was Sir Ector’s proper son. The Wart was not a proper son. He did not understand this, but it made him feel unhappy, because Kay seemed to regard it as making him inferior in some way. Also it was different not having a father and mother, and Kay had taught him that being different was wrong. Nobody talked to him about it, but he thought about it when he was alone, and was distressed. He did not like people to bring it up. Since the other boy always did bring it up when a question of precedence arose, he had got into the habit of giving in at once before it could be mentioned. Besides, he admired Kay and was a born follower. He was a hero-worshipper.

“Come on, then,” cried the Wart, and they scampered off toward the Mews, turning a few cartwheels on the way.

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The Once And Future King (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 216 reviews.
KrishnaP19 More than 1 year ago
Most fantasy books have taken a back seat these days. Small-time books are overshadowed with the ever so popular fantasy books of Harry Potter and Twilight. However, I came across a book on my family's bookshelf that revealed to me that small-time fantasy books can provide just as many hours of entertainment as any other popular book. T. H. White's "The Once and Future King" is a book I recommend for a great read if you want a simple yet fantasy based tale. "The Once and Future King" is a fantasy book based on the young King Arthur and his magical world in Camelot. What I liked most about this book is its use of perspective. The book is surrounded with characters of all types and personalities. The book contains four parts and each part is presented from the view of a different character. All four parts of the book depict King Arthur's rise to power all the way to his death. However, the different characters that present the story are both friends and enemies of King Arthur. For instance, the third part is read through Lancelot's life, who is King Arthur's most trusted knight and protector of Camelot. On the other hand, the fourth part of the book is presented through King Orkney's four sons Gawaine, Gaheris, Gareth, and Agravaine who all wish to see King Arthur lose his throne because of Arthur's past history. This four-part perspective book is flooded with characters that all have their unique personality. I found this most enjoyable as I made my own opinions about characters. I found it almost like a movie with characters I highly respect and others that generally irritated me. While characters are a central part of the story, the fantasy elements to the story add a little bit of comic relief to the book. From magical animals to wizardry to even war, this book is filled with both a dramatic plot and side humor all surrounded by its unique characters. I recommend this book not for those who wish to learn about King Arthur and his Round Table, but for those who want a simple and easy read for the sake of plot and entertainment. This story to me does not have the extreme insightful and enlightening themes that most of us enjoy in books. To me, it is just a straightforward story where you learn to love and hate the characters. "The Once and Future King" is just pure entertainment for an escape from reality. It is the epitome of a small-time fantasy book.
empeegee More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Is it the easiest book to read? Maybe not, but the complexity of the plot and the richness of the characters, is not easily told. The first book in the tetralogy is light while each of the following books become darker and more intense. This story stays with you long after you turn the final page. There's a lot to learn about life and humanity here. I always found the usual King Arthur stories too romantic, too artificial, but T. H. White wrote this story of King Arthur for adults and those who want to think.
Luminaria More than 1 year ago
I first read this in hardcover, ohhhh..... I'm not telling you how long ago - long enough that I had to get a new copy because the cover fell off! I loved "Arthur" stories as a kid, and the historical novels and variations that came out in the 70's and 80's as I grew up. When I stumbled across this one, I was both enthralled and vastly amused. I actually didn't realize that Disney stole the plot and twisted a chapter or two into their cartoon.... silly me! The Book Is Always Better! It's a great read that has a really "chatty", conversational tone, that assumes that you not only know a lot about King Arthur, but a little about history as well, or else you miss a lot of the jokes. But even if you do, the wizard who lives backwards and knows the future because it's his past, and the boy who turns into a fish and becomes king of all Briton will steal your heart. Enjoy!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is now one of my favorites of all time. Yes, at first, it was very confusing and kind of hard to keep reading. Once you read the first or second book, it gets much easier to finish and to fall in love with. It also had alot of twists and things that you werent expecting, which is one thing that I love in books. The only thing that I had a problem with was that there were some points where it would spend way too much time describing one thing, and it also skipped over about six years of Arthur's life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i love the king Arthur story's and i love this book i recommend this book to people who enjoy fantasy and myth type of tales!!:)
Avidreader1LC More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. I saw the movie that was based on this book and was able to imagine the cartoon characters along with the book. I higly recommend it to literature and history students and teachers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my favorite book ever, and has been for some time! The writing style is endearing and comfortable; the characters are extremely varied and lovable; and the plot is meaningful and thought-provoking, regardless of whether or not you agree with the morals presented. It does, however, take some concentration to read and it is absolutely not a book to breeze through while multitasking.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love, love, LOVE this book and have for 50 years. Do yourself a favor, though: spend the extra money to buy a different version on e-book. The formatting is terrible: hanging indents, returns in the middle of the lines, etc., making it simply impossible to read. Wish I could cancel the purchase.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I only read the first part, but it wasn't for me. It was confusing to me. There were many characters introduced, too many to remember. There were also many old words that didn't make sense. Since it takes place many years ago, they didn't really use proper grammar sometimes. Not for me. :)
Dirigible28 More than 1 year ago
I haven't finished it yet, but as of now it is definitely one of the better books I have read. It adds a lot more to the Authur story than most people know.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book consists of four different books, which is why it ends up being 700+ pages long. I only read The Sword in the Stone, and it was great. It was the story of Wart, who ends up seeing adventures in the point of view of animals, vegetables, and minerals. Blow ever, it was written in an older English, with accents and dialects written in so that way when you read it would sound just like he character. Some words were made up, and were parts of King Arthur stories, so the dictionary wasn't as helpful as usual. I would recommend this book to people who want to learn lessons through animals or want to see how we are in their eyes. It really is quite interesting and I hope that when you read it, you will understand it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great classic that belongs with Alice in Wonderland, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain. A must read for everyone.
jp0 More than 1 year ago
The Once and Future King was written by T.H. White. The book is sometimes called the world’s greatest fantasy classic. The book is historical fiction with fantasy mixed in. I think this book is mostly for people who enjoy fantasy. The book wasn’t really written to teach us anything, just for pleasure. The title, The Once and Future King, was a perfect choice for this book. This is because future kings will try to be like Arthur. It’s almost like he is the king of the future. The cover relates to the book with the knight in armor. Although it didn’t make me want to read the book, it was a good choice. The font size and the book were too small. The two main characters are the Wart and Merlyn. The Wart is King Arthur as a child and Merlyn was his tutor. Merlyn was secretly trying to teach the Wart to be a good king. He taught him by turning him into different animals to learn about how they work together to survive. In my opinion, this was not the greatest book. However, I am not a fan of fantasy books. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy, but discourage it if you are more of a scientific reader. It would just be a waste of time and unenjoyable.
Anonymous 11 months ago
This book made me feel emotionally for the characters of Camelot as I never have before. It organized the tales of La Morte D’Arthur in a way that was easy to understand, and gave poetical explanations and depth to characters and their intentions that endeared you to the most ignoble of them. This series is precious to my heart, and I can’t wait to read it with my sons one day, or at least send it with them as they go to their tree house refuges.
jason.goodwin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The only novel about King Arthur you'll ever need. Brilliant and weird, like its author.
labdaddy4 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Simply the GOLD standard of Arthurian tales
gtskhaki on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Didn't get it at all and enjoyed it even less.
jddunn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a sad, beautiful, funny retelling of the Arthurian myth from an anachronistic, modern standpoint. Another of those great books that uses the framework of a well known story or mythos to go well beyond it, and explore ideas, history, and many of the great questions(and wonders) we all encounter in life. The characterization of Lancelot is also one of the most genuine, complex, tragic examples I have ever read.
booksandwine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent, engrossing book. What can I say that has not already been said? T.H. White has a love affair with words, at parts his language is simple, at other moments ornate. All I really can say is read this book and, hopefully you will fall in love/adore the characters as I did.
LisaMaria_C on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This beautifully written book is one of two golden standards I use to measure Arthurian books. Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy for the historic approach, and this one, White's The Once and Future King, for the full-on fantasy approach. (The book was the basis for the musical Camelot.) The first three parts weren't originally written as part of the integrated novel but published separately. The best known of those was the first part, The Sword in the Stone, a great coming of age tale that was turned into a film by Disney. I loved that first part of the book especially--full of wisdom and whimsy as Merlyn--who lives backward in time--turns Arthur into different animals in order to help him gain wisdom, and the characters are truly endearing and the story full of humor that makes this part stand alone as a classic children's book. The next parts are very much adult and much darker, particularly the final and poignant fourth part, "The Candle in the Wind," dealing with the fall of Camelot. The Once and Future King has the most complex depictions of Arthur, Lancelot and Guenivere I've read and I think no matter what version of them I read afterwards, these are the ones I imprinted on--this is my Arthur, my Guinevere and my Lancelot. After White's death a connected novel called The Book of Merlyn was published, but I don't find it as engaging.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the definitive book about King Arthur, first published in 1939. All the characters in this book are seen with soft eyes, the eyes of a forgiving man, who finds ways to explain even the most cruel of actions. A few depictions seemed surprising; Lancelot, for example, is portrayed as an ugly man. It is the big view of the author that I found most compelling. The author looked at Arthur¿s reign as a major change in the way humanity lived, not living to take revenge on its enemies, but attempting to settle squabbles with diplomacy.
bill_reyn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book offers a very readable, entertaining version of the Arthurian legend. It is not a book for purists--C. S. Lewis thought the book was an abomination, especially in its treatment of Palomides. But for the uninitiated or those who choose not to plow through the Mort D'Arthur, this is a very happy alternative.White captures both the humor and the pathos of the legend. There were places in the first section, The Sword In The Stone, where I actually laughed out loud. Later in the book, I felt the ache at the inevitability of the downfall of Camelot.The one real drawback--although an entertaining one--is the caricature of Merlin. He appears to be a lovable hayseed with a bad memory who happens to be able to turn the Wart (Arthur) into different kinds of animals during his education. We experience none of the wizard's real power of presence.I've read the book four times and still find it entertaining.
jenreidreads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I feel like I should have enjoyed this book more than I did. It consists of four books: The Sword in the Stone, The Queen of the Air, The Ill-Made Knight, and Candle in the Wind. I kept falling asleep during the first book, even though (or perhaps, because) I'm most familiar with that story (i.e., the Disney movie of the same name). Honestly, I kept checking the Spark Notes for this book to make sure I wasn't missing something important¿I figured I had to be, since I wasn't swooning like everyone else about it. I liked the romantic storyline between Gwenevere and Lancelot best. I still don't understand why this is considered a fantasy classic¿what about this is fantasy? Sure, it's the Arthurian legend, but it definitely reads more like historical fiction, in my opinion.
hockeycrew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Classic book, basis of the Sword in the stone
amandrake on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hands down, one of the best books to give to a young adult. A classic in the best sense of the word.