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The Once and Future King | [T. H. White]

The Once and Future King

The complete "box set" of T. H. White's epic fantasy novel of the Arthurian legend. The novel is made up of five parts: "The Sword in the Stone", "The Witch in the Wood", "The Ill-Made Knight", "The Candle in the Wind", and "The Book of Merlyn".
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Publisher's Summary

The complete "box set" of T. H. White's epic fantasy novel of the Arthurian legend. The novel is made up of five parts: "The Sword in the Stone", "The Witch in the Wood", "The Ill-Made Knight", "The Candle in the Wind", and "The Book of Merlyn".

Merlyn instructs the Wart (Arthur) and his brother, Sir Kay, in the ways of the world. One of them will need it: the king has died, leaving no heir, and a rightful one must be found by pulling a sword from an anvil resting on a stone. In the second and third parts of the novel, Arthur has become king and the kingdom is threatened from the north. In the final two books, the ageing king faces his greatest challenge, when his own son threatens to overthrow him. In "The Book of Merlyn", Arthur's tutor Merlyn reappears and teaches him that, even in the face of apparent ruin, there is hope.

Download the accompanying reference guide.

©1939, 1940, 1958 T. H. White (P)2008 Naxos Audiobooks

What the Critics Say

  • AudioFile Earphones Award, 2009

"For those who have never read these five books, prepare to be surprised by their adultness, their laugh-out-loud humor and tongue-in-cheek commentary on modern life; for those who know them well, prepare to be delighted with Neville Jason's transcendent reading. The lovely timbre of his narrative voice, his rhythmic, easy pacing and host of individual characterizations transport listeners into White's weird and wonderful otherworld as quickly as Alice slipped through the looking glass. This long production is so entrancing that one wishes it would never end." (AudioFile)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Bookoholics Anon 08-28-11 Listener Since 2009

    No Pink Ponies

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    "Fabulous reading, epic story and a new chapter!"

    I first read this book in 1963, and it was always a great favorite; the layers of Arthurian myth with White's dry wit and time-bending sensibilities as if Camelot were set in circa WWI Great Britain. This version is an admirable reading, Neville Jason provides finely-honed voices and the perfect slightly-ironic intonation that catches the tongue-in-cheek nature of this book. There is a chapter new to me, actually two. The "Mrs Mim" section was absolutely not in my edition, and features a wizard's duel between Mrs Mim and Merlyn. Reminds me of some other book about wizards I've read recently, can't think which one, though. And the Book of Merlyn is at the end, an addition to the version I read, advice to the king from his departing tutor. HIGHLY RECOMMEND this for the most enjoyable listening.

    51 of 51 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robert Yamhill, OR, United States 12-13-12
    Robert Yamhill, OR, United States 12-13-12 Member Since 2009

    Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.

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    "My favorite book this year."

    When I read reviewers write, “the best book I have ever read,” I thought yeah right! ‘must not have read many books. Well, I have read a fair bit myself and this is definitely one of the best written books I have ever read. I believe it is a book that one can read and reread and enjoy over and over and find something new in each reading of it. Not to be redundant, it is also one of the most fun and funniest I have ever read. It is a scholarly and even literary work, if you will. And yet, at the same time, the book is totally enchanting, witty and charming.

    The legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table arose in the early Middle Ages, when England was just beginning to come under the influence of Christianity. When anyone retells the story, the author brings his own perspective to the tale of chivalry. Here T.H. White often appears to use the education of the young king Wart by Merlyn to educate the reader. While not in so many words, or maybe it is that: Merlin is a time-traveler. Not so much in the context of some science fiction novel but in his memory. Merlin is aware of past, present and the future. Certainly the author is aware of those times and uses those temporal events to tell his story. The book is in many ways a critique of mid-twentieth-century British culture. At first, things seem somewhat anachronistic but then we see that the narrator regularly references events and people in modern times to help tell his tale even more effectively.

    Both T.H. White’s The Once and Future King and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings were written in the shadow of World War II, and both reflect that context to some extent:

    “No. There is one fairly good reason for fighting - and that is, if the other man starts it. You see, wars are a wickedness, perhaps the greatest wickedness of a wicked species. They are so wicked that they must not be allowed. When you can be perfectly certain that the other man started them, then is the time when you might have a sort of duty to stop him.” (Merlyn)

    Not only is T.H. White’s The Once and Future King full of anachronistic references to places and events of modern times, but it also plays fast and loose with time within the framework of the novel itself. Given the references to the death of Uther Pendragon in 1216 and the appearance of Thomas Malory at the end of the story, Arthur would have lived from 1201-1485. In effect, what White does is telescope almost three hundred years of English history and social development into the backdrop of a single narrative.

    The book is long. But multiple versions of the story of King Arthur are considered within its covers so how short can it be? No, this is the best of several interpretations of the legend and it is not too long. While much of the book’s ending dwells on allegory, philosophy and social commentary, it is done with and eloquence and prose that is hard to compare with.

    One of the young reviewers of this book that I found tried to figure out the audience for for whom the author intended and concluded there were many. I agree:

    For children and young adults-
    “I have been thinking ... about Might and Right. I don’t think things ought to be done because you are able to do them. I think they should be done because you ought to do them.” (Arthur). One of the central themes of the book is War: Right and Might.

    On one level, both Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and T.H.
    White’s The Once and Future King are children’s stories, yet both novels contain very
    serious social commentary clearly intended for adults. Who could argue though that the social satire found in these novels detracts too much from the ability of children to enjoy them. Could a child appreciate all that is contained within TOaFK? Certainly not. However, there are many stories in this legend and many that target the child in all of us. One need not read this entire book though I am sure a lust will always remain to do so.

    No reviewer could possibly do justice to this book. How about some more of the author’s own words:

    On Wisdom-
    “The best thing for being sad ... is to learn something. That is the only thing that never
    fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then - to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.” (Merlyn)

    This is a story about great compassion-
    “If I were made a knight ..., I should insist on doing my vigil by myself, a Hob does with
    his hawks, and I should pray to God to let me encounter all the evil in the world in my own person, so that if I conquered there would be none left, and, if I were defeated, I would be the one to suffer for it.” (Wart)

    The author writes a great deal about the evolution of man-
    “Here, all you embryos, come here with your beaks and whatnots to look upon Our first
    Man. He is the only one who has guessed Our riddle, out of all of you, and We have great pleasure in conferring upon him the Order of Dominion over the Fowls of the Air, and the Beasts of the Earth, and the Fishes of the Sea. Now let the rest of you get along, and love and multiply, for it is time to knock off for the weekend. As for you, Man, you will be a naked tool all your life, though a user of tools. You will look like an embryo till they bury you, but all the others will be embryos before your might. Eternally undeveloped, you will always remain potential in Our image, able to see some of Our sorrows and to feel some of Our joys. We are partly sorry for you, Man, but partly hopeful.” (Badger)

    Much is written about human morality-
    “Morals ... are a form of insanity. Give me a moral man who insists on doing the right
    things all the time, and I will show you a tangle which an angel couldn’t get out of.” (Lionel)

    This title actually includes Books 1-5 of T.H. White’s magnum opus. It is not so much about world-building per se though there is enough of that. The book is more about us as humans and our nature... our intellectual, psychological, social and even political nature. The book is philosophical, satirical with even a little theology thrown in. Not too much; just the right amount. If it is action that ye seek, knockdown, drag out fighting, best look elsewhere. This is one more about relationships and different kinds of heroes.

    This is brilliant storytelling brilliantly read and performed. The narration by Neville Jason is as good as it gets. I could not recommend a book more highly.

    83 of 85 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jefferson Jonan-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Japan 12-17-11
    Jefferson Jonan-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Japan 12-17-11 Member Since 2010

    I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.

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    "A Modern Classic Epic Flawed by One Book Too Many"

    I eagerly purchased this audiobook of T. H. White???s complete The Once and Future King, because for a long time Audible only had the individual books available. And I loved the first four books, which begin with the halcyon fantasy of The Sword in the Stone, in which the boy Arthur (???Wart???) is educated by an anachronistic Merlyn. The scenes describing the daily life of a medieval castle during different seasons are vivid and beautiful, while those recounting Wart???s fantastic adventures and transformations into various animals are imaginative, suspenseful, and humorous. White loved and respected flora and fauna (even snakes), and this first book is encyclopedic and fantastic, dense and rich, absorbing and moving.

    From the second book, The Queen of Air and Darkness, which opens in the cold north as Queen Morgause boils a black cat alive while her four sons are telling the story of their grandmother???s rape by Arthur???s father, begins the increasingly dark movement of the novel, centered on the tragedy caused by Arthur???s family history and the romantic triangle between himself, Guenevere, and Lancelot (The Ill-Made Knight). In the 2nd through 4th books White most closely follows Malory, though he also moves the era forward from the 11th to the 15th century and empathically imagines how medieval men and women felt and thought with modern psychological insight. At the same time, he writes plenty of joie de vivre, questing and combating knights, and fascinating details about medieval life (food, fashion, feudalism, etc.).

    The novel really concludes with the 4th book (The Candle in the Wind) as the last battle between Arthur and Mordred is about to begin, but this audiobook then adds The Book of Merlyn, which may be good for completists, but which I found disappointing, as on the eve of the last battle Merlyn takes his former pupil off for a night of anachronistic political and philosophical debate with Badger and company about why humans wage war and what might be done to prevent it. Apart from Arthur changing into an ant and a goose to experience two different social systems, there is little ???story??? in this last book: too little Arthurian Matter and too much Whiteian Musing.

    Jason Neville does a marvelous job reading the long work, effortlessly giving different characters distinctive voices and personalities without over doing it (so that, for example, his female characters sound like human beings rather than like a man imitating ???women???). And his King Pellinore reminds me of John Gielgud.

    I recommend this audiobook for anyone interested in the Matter of Britain or philosophical and well-written fantasy.

    100 of 104 people found this review helpful
  •  
    january huntersville, NC, United States 05-08-12
    january huntersville, NC, United States 05-08-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Wordy Schmerdy! Don't be a quitter!"

    This is a wonderful book, full of knights, chivalry and magic. What I didn't expect is how funny it is. It made me giggle several times.

    I'm not satisfied to be a passive listener. I want to get everything I can from any book I read. So I did a little research into the life of T.H. White. He was an English scholar and writer. He left Britain for Ireland during World War 2. He strongly objected to the war and didn't want to be involved in it. So, where other reviewers see wordiness, I see a window into the writer's mind. The first 4 books are wonderfully detailed and captivating. The fifth requires a little more patience and thought. It's as if White set up characters to have a dialog that he was having with himself. Why do men kill each other? How can we stop it? Should we, or can we, stop it?

    Give it a chance. You'll love it.

    21 of 23 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joe lexington, KY, United States 07-26-12
    Joe lexington, KY, United States 07-26-12 Member Since 2008
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    "Many Years Ago"

    I read this book many years ago and jumped on the audio book when it became available. As in every part of my life I remember things differently than when I was younger. I was young and easily impressionable. Then it was a romantic novel of Knights who were bold and dreamed. They were honorable filled with Idealism. Listening to the book I saw a new and revealing side that included a political agenda, an eventual pragmatic realization and a little romance.

    The issue of Might versus Right tones in the book initially irritated me as Arthur and Merlin forged on to make everyone equal, then as the book progressed this Idealist quest turned quickly to the realization it's not as easy as they thought. The same hold true today!

    I loved this book even more than I did fourty years ago. The characters are belivable the intrigue as bold and the outcome as sad. I highly recommend you listen to this wonderful tale of the origin of King Arthur and his rise to power and the creation of the Round Table, the mastery of Merlin, the brave Lancelot and the lovely Guinnever.

    The Narrater was wonderful, the story enchanting. It's a masterpiece.This is the best novel of the Legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

    I will listen it it again.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 01-29-14
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 01-29-14 Member Since 2011

    A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.

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    "One of the Greatest Fantasy Novels EVER!"

    *** 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.

    19 of 21 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Valerie Allen State College, PA USA 02-17-13
    Valerie Allen State College, PA USA 02-17-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Good, but not unabriged"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    It's very well-read, voices are excellently done. And overall, it's a great story.


    Any additional comments?

    I wish the recording had included everything that was in the book. I read the book once before, a long time ago, and kept waiting for the bit where the Wart visited an ant colony (one of the few things I remember clearly from the time I read it before. It was about 30 years ago now). It never arrived. Thought I was losing my mind. I checked a physical copy of the work, and there it is, beginning of Chapter 13. They also skipped the bit where the Wart, after being turned into an owl and being taught how to fly, is turned into a goose. They probably skipped it because they skipped the ant colony, as this experience is a sharp contrast to the other one.

    If I hadn't known they were missing, I suppose I wouldn't miss those parts at all. But still. I wish a recording wouldn't call itself unabridged when it isn't.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    J. HOPPER Duluth, GA USA 05-20-12
    J. HOPPER Duluth, GA USA 05-20-12 Member Since 2002
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    "Great story, AMAZING narration"

    I read this story years ago, so when the complete audio version became available, I snapped it up. The story is pretty much as I remembered, but so much better because of the narration. Neville Jason handles the archaic terms impeccably, and moves easily between the chivalric language harking back to Malory and the more modern phrases and asides.

    Mr. Jason also strikes just the right notes, whether in the light-hearted sections or in the more poignant passages. I felt the true sense of tragedy in the story of a king who tried to do something new and good, and who nevertheless was brought down by fate and youthful indiscretions.

    An excellent, excellent story, and a lovely narration. I didn't mind the last book, but if you skip it, you won't really have missed anything much. But I wanted to hear the whole thing, and I'm glad I did. Thank you, T.H. White and Neville Jason for a truly memorable work.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kristi Milwaukie, OR, United States 04-22-12
    Kristi Milwaukie, OR, United States 04-22-12 Member Since 2011

    An old broad that enjoys books of all types. Would rather read than write reviews though. I know what I like, and won't be bothered by crap.

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    "King Arthur's story from birth to ?"
    Where does The Once and Future King rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    This is one of the best books on Audible! It is a classic story told with a fantastic narrator, made to read aloud. A wonderful listen.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The many characters both animal and human that make up the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Every time an animal is mentioned we learn how humans could do a better job if we only learned to follow the animals.
    This was a great book to end on Earth Day as the last book has Arthur the old man embracing "his England" and realizing he loves her more than any one else in his life. Beautiful sentiment.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    I think the scene that stands out the most is when Arthur as Wart runs into Madame Mim and Merlin has to save him and Kay from the mad witch woman. It's a very funny scene and is told with lots of witty lines. I laughed out loud!


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    When Guenevere and Lancelot realize that Mordred is outside the door ready to arrest them and they realize they will never have that special something between them and Arthur anymore. Very sad.


    Any additional comments?

    I highly recommend this book. It is the source for Camelot the Musical and Disney's Sword in the Stone. It is much more than just a story. I learned so much about different animal species and political parties besides being told a great epic.
    The Narrator is top notch and has his characters down pat.

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    ESK Moscow, Russia 11-15-12
    ESK Moscow, Russia 11-15-12 Member Since 2011

    There are books of the same chemical composition as dynamite. The only difference is that a piece of dynamite explodes once, whereas a book explodes a thousand times. ― Yevgeny Zamyatin

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    "Fascinating fantasy saga"

    I'm so lucky to have bought this audiobook. I've never been a fan of such a genre, but this is truly a classic. I lost my heart to it! I had so much fun listening to the Wart's adventures and metamorphoses in Part 1! The narrator's rendition was outstanding! King Pellinore's tragic voice will stay in my memory. I enjoyed the accents he did.
    The Sword in the Stone (Part 1), depicting the Wart's training by Merlyn, is perhaps the most carefree and happy-go-lucky part of all. It verged on mock heroic and parody. But things got more and more brooding and momentous, and there were more sacrifices and deaths as the denouement drew near (though The Ill-made knight, telling the story of Lancelot, was mostly ironic).
    Just like Merlyn teaching young Arthur magic to "maturate", in each part of the book T.H. White teaches the reader to become wiser, get real and stop seeing only the bright side of life. Life (or rather people) can be hilarious and comical, but it can also be cruel and nonsensical, like the killing of the unicorn episode.
    The plot is consistent, but each part is somewhat different and has its own mood. Definitely The Sword in the Stone stands out in terms of humour and atmosphere. The Queen of Air and Darkness, The Ill-Made Knight, and The Candle in the Wind tell a grave story of Arthur’s life. The book of Merlyn is an insightful conclusion to the epic.
    The Once and Future King is not a humorous story of King Arthur and the Round Table as one might think after reading The Sword in the Stone, but it's a philosophical fantasy novel that brings up such subject matter as power, justice, war, greed, treachery, love, and religion, to name a few.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
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  • Wendy
    Spilsby, United Kingdom
    7/5/11
    Overall
    "Magical"

    Though I liked all the books, the first was my favourite. Captivated from the first words and the narration is excellent; as good as Stephen Fry in the Potter books. Neville Jason manages all the parts beautifully and with enthusiasm. Well worth the money.

    20 of 20 people found this review helpful
  • J
    Ellesmere Port, United Kingdom
    7/26/12
    Overall
    "An old favourite made even more enjoyable"

    One of my favourite books from childhood. When you listen again as an adult you appreciate fully the
    wit and wisdom of the author. Neville Jason's narration is delightful, capturing the many characters perfectly.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Victoria
    Oxford, United Kingdom
    7/26/12
    Overall
    "Full of delights"

    Such a delightful book. Neville Jason is an amazing narrator. His voices are varied and so apt for the characters. Makes me feel like a child again.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • m
    London, United Kingdom
    12/28/11
    Overall
    "Spellbinding"

    Absolutely magical! The story is fantastic and the narration is perfect. I enjoyed all the books equally, well worth the buy.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  • Mr
    pre St Clar, France
    12/30/12
    Overall
    "Historical story but with made up events too"

    The Once And Future King is a very interesting story, I would suggest listening to it in little stages so you can come back for more of it later - there is a lot of information to take in! The Once and Future King is a story set in the past, but the story is made up. The tutor is a wizard... which is lots of fun.

    Jodie age 14

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Mrs. K. A. Mr Carr
    UK
    1/27/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "The all encompasing Arthur"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    I do recommend this but you do have to be dedicated, it is a long "read". The story is of course interesting but TH White's discussions on everything from falconry to warfare, from costume to food, from fortifications to manners are a revelation.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Not sure - Merlin probably; for the humour and his knowledge of the future. The warnings of what was to happen in nazi Germany were fascinating especially as, I believe, it was written around 1938.


    Which character – as performed by Neville Jason – was your favourite?

    Lancelot - he was ugly, lovable, completely moral (that should go first) and just GOOD.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No - it was so long and intricate it had to be taken in bites (whilst I was ironing - I grew to love ironing).


    Any additional comments?

    I cried at the end and I don't know if it was the story or the fact that the story had come to an end.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Richard
    London, United Kingdom
    12/30/11
    Overall
    "Let Down"

    Knowing the books well I was very let down by the narrator who sounds like Brian Sewell with a sour taste in his mouth.

    Be warned, listen to the sample before buying to check you can live with the style of reading.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Simon
    walsall, United Kingdom
    2/13/13
    Overall
    "Disappointingly dull"



    Be warned, I gave this one star before realizing that I couldn't remove it! Although I wanted so very much to love these books .... If only I'd known how lacking in description and dull these books were I wouldn't have struggled on for so long hoping for some improvement. As it was I became more and more disheartened and frustrated the more I listened.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
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