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.
- Music:Repo: The Genetic Opera