Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Sword in the Stone


White, T.H. The Once and Future King.
Part One: The Sword in the Stone

I have been wanting to read this book for years. It's been on my to-be-read list for ages. But I decided fairly early on that 2008 would be THE YEAR to make it happen at last. The first book in The Once and Future King is The Sword in the Stone. I was somewhat familiar with the story having seen at least glimpses of the movie growing up. We never owned it on VHS, but I do think I probably saw at least clips of it on tv now and then. Our hero is a young boy, Wart, who is growing up alongside another little boy, Kay. Kay is going to grow up into quite a legacy. He's going to be a knight. Wart is not his 'equal' in that sense. He's going to grow up to be his squire. Or so everyone thinks. The book focuses on the boys' education. Particularly on Wart's education. Even the first sentence highlights this: "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." In the first few pages, we learn that while the boys at one time did have a governess looking out for them, she has since left. The boys are in need of someone--a tutor--to help with their education.

Wart is the one who accidentally stumbles onto a solution for their problem. He discovers Merlyn quite by chance. Merlyn is a wonderful teacher. As you probably remember, he ages backward. He's old, but getting younger by the day. He knows the future, but he's living in the moment. I don't quite "understand" all the implications of this. It befuddles me if I try to wrap my mind around the concept. But regardless, the chapters focus on their relationship. This teacher-student relationship. Wart is getting extra-attention and extra-guidance than Kay. Kay is sometimes jealous, sometimes quite a jerk, but he can't quite help it.

Wart loves best the lessons where Merlyn turns him into an animal, vegetable, or mineral. He spends time as a fish, bird, ant, badger, and I can't-quite-remember-what else. But he spends his childhood and teen years learning to think, learning to question. He is a very curious boy/man. And he learns so much because he is able to listen--really listen--and observe the world around him.

The book has many many characters many of whom are delightful. The book also shows Wart and Kay having an adventure or two with Robin Wood (Wood-not-Hood) and Lady Marian and Little John and the whole gang of 'Merry Men.'

I don't think I would be spoiling it for anyone if I mentioned the ending, but just in case you don't know who Wart grows up to be, stop reading and consider yourself fully warned.

The book concludes with the rather famous sword-in-the-stone incident. Wart quite by chance pulls out the sword. Kay is in need of a sword, and he is "borrowing" it from a war monument or so he thinks. Kay's own sword accidentally being left behind at the inn. Wart isn't trying to be king. He isn't wanting to rise above Kay. But it's just natural for him. He is the one--the only one--who seems to be able to pull this sword out of the stone. Merlyn later fills him in on a little secret.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this book. I look forward to reading the rest of the novel. I will be reviewing them separately. But when I have finished all four, I'll do a recap post and link them all together.

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