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Seton Hill University WPF
Writing Popular Fiction for the masses
Reading Journal Entry 1: The Once and Future King 
1st-Feb-2009 06:42 pm
So....I finally finished the epic-ness of T.H White's "The Once and Future King."

I'm not going to lie, I had a really hard time staying focussed during this book. While I found many of the charas interesting and their interactions very worthy of notice, it was difficult slogging through the pages and pages of narrative summary about boar hunting, falconry, and Arthur becoming Woodland Animal of the Week. While I'm glad that the setting was lush, I think White was overdoing it, even for the time.

On the flip side, learning about falconry, heraldry, and the pageantry of Arthur's court was interesting, and I'm wondering if using the book as a bit of reference for these subjects might be a good idea. Then again, since White was a Brit, maybe not unless I want a British influence. As informative as these passages were, I still feel as though they might have been pared down. I found myself drifting away from the primary plot and losing focus.

I found many if the support charas interesting, although King Pellinore and Grummore were a bit too Monty Python for me. I also didn't like the treatment of Robin Hood or Morgan LeFay. I wasn't exactly sure what White was trying to do in using all these charas in the same book. Many of them appear, do nothing, and then disappear. Again, these interactions strayed from the main story.

I enjoyed Arthur much more after he is grown and King, of course. Although his childhood adventures with Merlyn are somewhat humorous. Arthur being a simple, kind person worked very well for me and explained the chara's relative naivete. I also thought the idea of an ugly Lancelotwas excellent! I felt the most deeply for him. To me, he was more of an Everyman. Arthur was more of an icon. His troubles stemmed from the culture of his world and trying to change things on a grand scale, while Lancelot's problems were within. Victories on the battlefield came easy but he lost on the battlefield of his soul more than once.

The treatment of women was passable at best, and I know I have to remember the time in which the book was written. Gwen was the same as she is in every book. Part Queen, part shrew, all stock.

The other thing I found very distracting is the fact that White shifts POV so suddenly in his narratives. All of a sudden, he breaks the fourth wall and starts addressing the reader. Not only that, he references modern times in doing so. For instance, on page 321: "The now vigorous boy might go at his companions harum-scarum, with sword and buckler. If you had been down in one of the old fashioned diving suit which used to be standard i the Royal Navy..."

Needless to say, this technique drove me crazy. I felt that as soon as I was fully submersed in White's world, he kept yanking me out of it.

Still, I think the charas were superb. The dialogue, though limited, was excellent and well done. The conflicts were good and carried the plot's tension, although the ending is disappointing. White builds up to Arthur's conflict with Mordred only to back off at the last second, and say that Arthur "went out to meet his future with a peaceful heart." I'm not sure why falconry deserves 30 some-odd pages, but the main conflict gets one sentence.

All in all, I'd suggest everyone who writes fantasy of any kind read this book because it is a classic of the genre and speaks to our fantasy roots and our great desire to world-build and lean toward purple prose. Also, it shows the difference between such masters as White and Tolkein, who were expected to write pages upon pages of narrative summary and more modern masters like George R.R. Martin who sprinkles backstory into action and intrigue.
2nd-Feb-2009 04:27 am (UTC)
You know, that's one that I still haven't read. I finally got a chance to drive the hour and fifteen minutes to Barnes and Noble yesterday only to find that they didn't have three of the books I need / want to finish before May. I did find some other books to buy. Right now, I am about halfway through Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash." This book is a pretty thick read, especially since I've been out of the wannabe hacker thing for a really long time. The book does some of the things I'm looking to do, though, about making an alternate future where things seem similar, but are very different in some respects. I don't want anyone who actually reads my stories to have this many problems understanding them, though.

I received Jay Asher's "Thirteen Reasons Why" from my library on Friday and finished it the same day. *THAT* is going into my list of messed up books. But I'm sure we'll all talk it to death in June, so I guess I will have to wait until then.

And now, of course, you motivated me to add T.H. White's "The Once And Future King" to my list of books I'm going to actually need to read. {sigh}
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