A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
Finished reading this with my kids, but I probably enjoyed it the most. It was a fun introduction to Lawrence of Arabia written by Alstair MacLean in 1962. It focuses on the role that T.E. Lawrence played in the Arab Revolt during WWI. There is just enough wind-up with his early life, character, etc., and the history/geography of Arabia to insure the thrust of MacLean's small biography doesn't lose nonserious readers in a desert of Arab ignorance. But the book's real brilliance is in MacLean's depiction of the Capture of Aqaba, Battle of Tafileh and the Fall of Damascus. At the end, MacLean also ties the book off with a summary of the post-War years and some of the political results of T.E. Lawrence's work with Winston Churchill and the Colonial Office.
Again, as a biography this is probably not where I would start for T.E. Lawrence. This is more literary hagiography than biography. Alistar MacLean is better known for his war novels like 'The Guns of Navarone' and 'Where Eagles Dare'. MacLean's book came out the same year as Lawrence of Arabia the academy award winning movie (which suggests this was one of those books intended to surf the wave of interest generated by a popular film). But still, if you are going to read one biography to your kids designed around a legend, saint, or mythmaker ... you could certainly feed the kids worse.
*** First a preamble:
Just so you know, this audiobook contains Books 1 -4 of The Once and Future King AND Book #5 (The Book of Merlin). I didn't know #5 was included, but was thrilled to discover it came with the rest.
*** OK, preambulations are done, on with the real review:
I loved it and my two brats (11 & 13) absolutely enjoyed it, even if many of the jokes, the funky anachronistic blending of the Medieval with the Modern, might have floated a bit over their tiny wee heads.
Anyway, I think White perfectly captured the magic, power, fears and the joy of both youth and myth with this retelling of early Arthurian legend. White's theme of power and justice ("Might Makes Right") seem to perfectly capture the political Zeitgiest of now. Perhaps, White like Merlin was just writing through time backwards and wanted to capture the queer contradictions of Imperial Democracy in the global 21st century, but wanted to write it in the 1930s so Disney would be around to animate it (ugh) in the 60s and thus make his point resonate better in the early 21st century.
You might think a novel that basically focuses on a love-triangle (a quadrilateral if you include God), several affairs, a man's struggle between his love for a woman, love for God, love for his best friend, would not hold the interest of a 13 and an 11-year old for long, but this is T.H. White. The characters are so human, so filled with frailties, heroics, and insecurities that White could have written about cooking for 300 pages and my kids would have been rapt from page 1 to the end.
The story turns, about half-way through, solidly to Lancelot. It is impossible to understand Lancelot without looking at Arthur, Guinevere, Elaine & Galahad. And White digresses throughout TO&FK to capture these stories. The middle of the book pivots as Camelot, under Arthur's leadership, undergoes a change from physical quests (Round Table v. Might makes Right) to spiritual ones (Round Table > Grail quest). This change captures/mirrors the dynamic of Lancelot's own story (the vacillation between the physical and spiritual).
Finally, the weight of the conspiracies, the betrayals, the killings, and the expulsions are all there pushing against the King (I love when T.H. White calls Arthur - England) and his faith in man and justice. It just isn't to be. Do I need to hide the ending? Am I going to spoil the book for you? Come now, we are all mostly adults here. Camelot fails, but T.H. White explores the failure almost as beautifully as he does the magic of Camelot. He captures the magic of Camelot by focusing on the humanity of the people. He isn't satisfied with making (or keeping rather) Lancelot, King A, Guinevere, and even Mordred locked up in the stale symbols they often become. The trite shadows of type is not T.H. White's jam. He wants to humanize everybody. He wants to show the motives, the nuances of character that makes the reader LOVE these figures not because they symbolize things like bravery, chivalry, or justice ... but because they remind the reader of elements, times, moods and flaws found buried within. T.H. White started with a fantasy novel, but ended with an exploration of war, humanity, love, and hope.
Look, I'm skeptical of fantasy novels. They aren't my thing. I want literature. I want something that pushes you against the wall of your own head and dares you to think bigger. I think T.H. White was aiming for that -- and holy anachronisms - he nailed it.
Just finished this with the kids. I remember reading this with my mother when I was 10. It is a nice generational conveyance. When I was young, the STORIES of Tom and Huck affected me the most. Now, however, it is Twain's language that touches me. I love how Tom's life and play is impacted by the adventure books he reads. One day Tom is animated by a bounty of pirates, the next day by a shadow of robbers, and everyday Tom's vocabulary and actions are endowed with the books of his youth. 'Tom Sawyer' is just as much an ode to his youth as it is a poesy to the adventure books of a more tender age.
New grandpa. Married 35 great years. Drink Batch 19,Tsing Tao, and Bohemia. Read Card, King, Hobb, Sawyer, Sci-Fi, Historical Fiction.
Since you can get these five books for one credit, go ahead and get it, instead of one book at a time. Believe me if you buy the first book, you are going to want the second and if you buy the second, etc. Since this is five books I will go over each, in case you buy one at a time. I will try an be brief. I mean if if takes you as long to read the review as the book, why not just get the book.
1, The Sword and The Stone (1938). This is the best of the five and is mostly a fantasy. Wart/Arthur is turned into several animals to learn about life. There is also an interesting part on boar hunting. Did you know on a boar spear there is a cross piece to keep the animal from running up the spear to get to you.
2.The Witch In the Wood (1939) This is shorter, darker and not as funny, nor as good as the book before and after, but necessary as it explains the origin of the Round Table.
3. The Ill-Made Knight (1940) This is all about Lancelot. You really get to know his character, matter of fact there is more character building in this book then the others. This is the longest of the books and actually goes on about three hours longer then it should have. Did you know that Lancelot was extremely ugly? This is one of the reasons he became such a great Knight. It is such a big part of his character I can't believe so many movies chose to make him some stupid Handsome Hunk. He is a lot more complicated as an Ugly Man. You are introduced to the tragic character Elaine, who starts out as a trickster, but who you end up feeling strongly sorry for. Guinvere turns out to be one horny queen.
4. The Candle in The Wind (1958) Does Might Mean Right is the common theme in all these books. It is especially in this one and the book has several long speeches. I myself as a child never understood why John Wayne won ever fight he was in. Until True Grit, John Wayne strongly believed he should never be killed in a movie. Heroes don't die and never lose fights. King Arthur's mother dies at the age of 70, in bed with a young man she seduced. In the original "Once and Future King" this was the last book, as it should have stayed.
5.The Book of Merlyn (1977) This was published after T.H. White's death. He wanted it in the original (Once and Future King), but the editor would not allow it. That was one smart editor. This book brought the whole series down from Five stars to Four. This book has no plot and is 97% anti-war speeches. There is a part where the King is turned into a ant and then into a goose. Those parts and the end which explains what finally happens to everybody are the only good parts to the book. This is mostly a debate where White argues both sides. I also am aniti-war, but no explanation is given about what to do about people like Hitler. White seems to say let him keep murdering Jews.
All in all this is very well written, is very entertaining and if you are a fan of the Legend of Arthur, then it is a must read.
The narrator is excellent.