The Sword in the Stone

by T. H. White

Other authorsTerence Hanbury White (Author)
Hardcover, 1993

Status

Available

Local notes

Fic Whi

Collection

Publication

Philomel Books (1993), Edition: Ill, 256 pages

Description

A retelling of the Arthurian legend.

Original language

English

Original publication date

1938

Physical description

256 p.; 6.75 inches

ISBN

0399225021 / 9780399225024

Barcode

618

User reviews

LibraryThing member aulsmith
Just in case the url for gwyneira's review disappears, I will reiterate: There are two versions of the Sword in the Stone. The 1939 version and the later one that White revised for The Once and Future King. If your version has Wart turning into an ant, it's the later version. For my money, the first version is really superior. The revisions came after World War II and White felt the need to hammer points home about totalitarian regimes that I feel are didactic and boring, where the material White pulled from the original is vivid, honest writing. If by some chance you've only ever read the revised version, the added material is in the Book of Merlyn.… (more)
LibraryThing member Sonya.Contreras
I do not believe this is the identical book that we read. We had the unabridged version with a different cover.

It always amazes me what my boys will enjoy. The unabridged version carries a lot of description, scenery, Latin, big vocabulary that makes it a hard book for me to read out loud. But my boys always asked for more.

The adventure intertwined with imaginative wishings that came true allowed the boys to feel what it would be like to slither like a snake, fly like a bird, swim like a fish...These ramblings of the imagination were give under the guise of 'education' that any boy would revel in. They also were essential for the training needed for the boy turned man.

(Makes me wonder about all these new rules of writing that take out the tangents to make sure the plot is moving forward.)

The boys were sad to see the end come.
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LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
Marvelous, just as I remember it from high school. But still, not enough to get me to want to read the rest. I mean, I did actually read it as part of The Once and Future King this time, and I did read the first couple chapters of the second story therein. But, despite White's talent, I still find myself utterly benumbed by Arthurian stories. Wart and his lessons, great. Arthur the king and his wars and all those love affairs, not so much.… (more)
LibraryThing member scatterall
I loved this book as a child, and just started reading it to my 10 year old son, who is rapt.

I don't think this is a "children's book" however, so much as it is a book that children with good vocabularies who already love history and nature may love. Grownups who are well-read in classic literature will get a lot more of the humor and historical references,

I would say that if you enjoyed the Harry Potter books but wished the writing quality was better, you need to read this book.

This book was written before WWII. It is beautifully written by a humorous child-loving extremely well-educated Englishman of that time. It assumes you are someone compatible. It is packed with detail of all kinds; history, natural history, politics, mythology... but if you can't get through anything written before 1945, it is not for you.
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LibraryThing member AJBraithwaite
I found this on a list somewhere of 'books everyone should have read', so picked it up from the YA section of the library and dutifully did so. It was a bit of a curate's egg. The anachronisms were a bit strange and the plot was light-to-non-existent. I found the dialogue punctuation irritating after a while - there were a lot of new paragraphs with the same speaker as the previous one, where the quotation marks suggested it should be a new one. Often I wasn't sure which 'he' was being referred to, either.

On the other hand, I did like some of the descriptive passages, like this one of the old English seasons (when the weather behaved itself):

"In the spring all the little flowers came out obediently in the meads, and the dew sparkled, and the birds sang; in the summer it was beautifully hot for no less than four months, and, if it did rain just enough for agricultural purposes, they managed to arrange it so that it rained while you were in bed; in the autumn the leaves flamed and rattle before the west winds, tempering their sad adieu with glory; and in the winter, which was confined by statute to two months, the snow lay evenly, three feet thick, but never turned into slush."
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LibraryThing member Othemts
For a long holiday road trip with my son, I thought he'd enjoy this introduction to Arthurian mythology. I did it with some hesitation, as The Once and Future King was one of my favorite books as a child and I feared it may not hold up to nostalgia. I'm pleased though that this first installment of the tetralogy is still an enjoyable, modernist spin on the story of King Arthur, filling in the story of Arthur's childhood. Of course, I always thought the The Sword in the Stone was the best of the four parts. One thing I didn't know is that White actually made major changes when he incorporated The Sword in the Stone into The Once and Future King, and while I can't really remember enough to recognize most of the changes I was surprised that Disney didn't actually make up the duel between Merlyn and Madame Mim. Another thing I didn't notice is a kid was just how blatant the anachronisms are, with Meryln living backwards in time making them a running gag. Knowing how much White loved hunting, I also noticed that he puts a lot of detail into his descriptions of hunts throughout the book, something I must have glazed over as a child. What remains the same is that the book contains a lot of humor, adventure, animal lore, a cameo by Robin Hood (er, Robin Wood), and surreptitious pacifist social satire. And my son, well he covered his ears a lot during the scary party, but insisted we keep listening to the story and that we move on to The Witch in the Wood next.… (more)
LibraryThing member briannad84
A bit different from the cartoon I grew up on. but very enjoyable. I'm surprised nobody's tried to make a more modern movie based on it, it'd be excellent! I loved the character of Merlin and Archimedes. The parts where he was turned into various animals was a bit dull. Seems a bit hefty of a book for younger readers though, but I'm not sure what age group White intended it for....… (more)
LibraryThing member AJBraithwaite
I found this on a list somewhere of 'books everyone should have read', so picked it up from the YA section of the library and dutifully did so. It was a bit of a curate's egg. The anachronisms were a bit strange and the plot was light-to-non-existent. I found the dialogue punctuation irritating after a while - there were a lot of new paragraphs with the same speaker as the previous one, where the quotation marks suggested it should be a new one. Often I wasn't sure which 'he' was being referred to, either.

On the other hand, I did like some of the descriptive passages, like this one of the old English seasons (when the weather behaved itself):

"In the spring all the little flowers came out obediently in the meads, and the dew sparkled, and the birds sang; in the summer it was beautifully hot for no less than four months, and, if it did rain just enough for agricultural purposes, they managed to arrange it so that it rained while you were in bed; in the autumn the leaves flamed and rattle before the west winds, tempering their sad adieu with glory; and in the winter, which was confined by statute to two months, the snow lay evenly, three feet thick, but never turned into slush."
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LibraryThing member themulhern
A wonderful book. Superbly evokes an imaginary and magical England. There is an admirable but not extra-ordinary protagonist, a brave, considerate, kind hearted, noble boy who discovers at the end that he is King Arthur and has serious work to do. Until that point, however, he has many fabulous and whimsical adventures with the assistance of the magician Merlin.

Neville Jason's reading is excellent.
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LibraryThing member DGibson
A strange and anachronism-filled retelling of the very early years of King Arthur, when he was just a boy nicknamed "Wart". The story is wild and bizarre with absurd and comical characters and situations. The plot itself if highly episodic, taking place over a series of educational sessions where the wizard Merlin - who is living life backwards - attempts to use his magic to instruct the boy who would be king.
The main character is fairly bland, walking the fine line between open and relatable everyman and empty cipher. The character of his foster-brother, Kay, was much more interesting being pompous and grumpy yet forced and driven by convention and what is expected of him.

I didn't enjoy the book as much as I hoped. It alternated between whimsical, comedic, and historical so often I couldn't keep track of what it was trying to accomplish in every scene. The book felt schizophrenic: it couldn't quite decide what it wanted to be and what it wanted to acomplish.
The text used quite alot of British slang - both from the time of the writing and loosely period specific - making it a chore to slog through the unfamiliar text. There were far too many terms whose meaning was assumed and not explained.
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LibraryThing member EmmaBTate
Really good read, different take on the Arthur/Merlin legend.
LibraryThing member timjones
This enjoyable, whimsical telling of the life of King Arthur before he became King Arthur is marred by jarring shifts of tome between rather ponderous humour, anachronistic modern references, wonderful nature writing and interpolated tales of an improving nature. I understand that T H White revised and deepened the story when he incorporated it in "The Once and Future King", but I found this version enjoyable and irritating in about equal measure. It does contain some terrific description and fine imagery, and so, in the end, I liked it more than I disliked it. I think.… (more)
LibraryThing member GregoryHeath
This is one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. Here’s a list of some of its qualities (in no particular order). This book is: bizarre; entertaining; erudite; surreal; inventive; free (of most accepted writing conventions); sloppy; funny; characterful; wilfully inconsistent; (randomly) indebted to Shakespeare; (randomly) informative; (randomly) opinionated; (randomly) time-travelling; (consistently) random. I’m giving it four stars on account of the fact that despite all of the above I read it to the end and enjoyed doing so, which gets more impressive the more I think about it. Apparently it’s about the Young King Arthur, who like many a young man was fond of mounching on mercy-flavoured bread, which of course has yet to be invented….… (more)
LibraryThing member SatansParakeet
This book was ruined for me a bit by my having seen the Disney version as a child first. The Disney movie had a more cohesive plot and some obvious rising conflicts, while the book mostly lacks those things. Where the book excels, though, is in providing many bits of wry humor along with some philosophical musings on life, its purpose, and also the purpose of rulers.… (more)
LibraryThing member Cecrow
Loosely based on the legend of King Arthur, this novel reads in places like something Lewis Carroll would have composed. Its language is reminiscent of Barrie's Peter Pan: very advanced for today's young readers, too much for my nine year old who lost interest in the first chapter. Anachronisms crop up throughout, probably for fun; the author acknowledges them subtly and makes little effort to reconcile them. Merlyn is said to live backwards through time as justification, but small details invalidate this explanation. His student Wart is a rather dull character and develops not a whit: he is good-natured and sensible on the first page, and remains so to the last. There's no evident value gained from the so-called education he receives, and by the fourth or fifth time Wart was made an animal I was exasperated.

For a positive there are fascinating descriptions that display the author's enormous medieval knowledge: detailed contents and operations of the hay field, the mews, Merlyn's study, Sir Ector's fortifications, jousting, the uses for various woods, etc. Even an adult can learn a lot here (except from the astronomy, which states the universe began "a few thousand million years ago".) There's some interesting things about this novel and relating to it, but judging this book on its own merits it's not really that brilliant and a bit of a relic. I won't trouble my son with it again.

Note: my review is for the original edition with Madam Mim, the troubling anthropophagi, etc.
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LibraryThing member SerenaWalker
pretty good.
LibraryThing member joeydag
Before high school I think, after the Disney animated film.
LibraryThing member benuathanasia
Incredibly similar to the Disney movie. However, there were many scenes I had never heard about (Robin and Maid Marian in a King Arthur tale? Whooda thunk it?) and some scenes were lacking (apparently the Once and Future King version - which is what I read - does not feature my beloved Madam Mim. On a side note, my affection for the Mad Madam Mim is such that my own mother has been referred to as "Mim" since I was roughly 10/11). Enjoyable, but awfully tangential. And the humor is very...unique.… (more)
LibraryThing member xicanti
King Arthur's boyhood takes an interesting turn when Merlyn becomes his tutor.

I think I'm either too old or too young to have read this book for the first time. I know I'd have adored it if I'd read it when I was eight. I'd have shrieked with delight at all the Wart's adventures. I'd have longed to try everything for myself. Hell, I'd probably even have instituted my own personal eddicational system based on this book!

(I did stuff like that when I was little. It was rarely successful, but it was a hell of a lot of fun).

Were I a little older than I am now, I suspect I'd have been drawn in by the oh-so-British prose. It just begs you to do the voices in your head as you read! There's a real sense of delight behind the words, and it seems to me that White's approach owes more than a little to such children's authors as E. Nesbit. I'd probably have viewed the book as a welcome return to childhood dreams.

As it currently stands, though, I got tired of this pretty quickly. It's very much a boy's school story, (albeit with King Arthur as the boy in question), and as a result is quite episodic. There's also a great deal of educational material packed in here, both seriously and as satire, and it all got to be just a bit too much for me. Were this a treasured childhood read, I'm sure I'd have loved revisiting it with a clear idea of just what everything means... but, having come to it for the first time at twenty-four, I just found it tedious. I didn't particularly want a cleverly educational book. I didn't want a fine example of fun-yet-informative children's lit. I wanted a good story, and this just didn't deliver on that level.

Recommended to youngsters, oldsters, and those who've already read and loved it. Others, think about what you really want from the book before launching in. You, like me, may find that you're at the wrong point in your life for this tale.
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LibraryThing member nx74defiant
A cute fantasy of Arthur's childhood.

I liked the descriptions of Wart's experiences transformed into a fish, snake, hawk, owl and badger.

Sometimes the dialect spelling got annoying.

The use of the word Indians seemed jarring, politically incorrect and out of place.
LibraryThing member ben_a
"Now we will see what a double-first at Dom-Daniel avails against the private education of my master Bleise."

Surely it cannot be me alone who finds childhood favorites the mental equivalent of comfort food. Right before dropping out of graduate school I re-read the collected Sherlock Holmes and The White Company. Had I been thinking more clearly I would have read this instead.

Is this the best children's book of all time? What are the other candidates? (Wind in the Willows, Trumpet of the Swan, and The Jungle Books, to start)

[aulsmith below is correct: the 1939 version is superior for the reasons stated. The light touch triumphs]
10.22.07
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LibraryThing member AbigailAdams26
A young boy named Wart, being fostered in the home of Sir Ector, finds himself being tutored by the wizard Merlyn in this classic treatment of the youth of King Arthur. Transformed into various different creatures during the course of his education - a fish, a hawk, an ant, a goose and a badge - Wart learns about the nature of power and of warfare, and is taught to question the issues of fairness and justice. Unbeknownst to him, he is in training for his future as a king, and the book ends at the tournament in London, where the future monarch will be revealed by his ability to pull the sword from its stone...

Originally published in 1938 in a slightly different form than its current one - I believe the episode with the ants was added later - The Sword in the Stone was eventually published, together with three sequels - The Witch in the Wood, The Ill-Made Knight and The Candle in the Wind - as the first part of The Once and Future King, T.H. White's epic reimagining of the Arthurian saga. Although the larger work is not considered a children's book, The Sword in the Stone often is, and I recall reading it myself as a girl. White's work was included in the syllabus of the course on the history of children's literature that I took while getting my masters, and I was glad to encounter it again. I found the animal transformations here quite interesting, and was quite struck by the passage in which Wart reflects on Merlyn's teaching style: "the Wart did not know what Merlyn was talking about, but he liked him to talk. He did not like the grown-ups who talked down to him, but the ones who went on talking in their usual way, leaving him to leap along in their wake, jumping at meanings, guessing, clutching at known words, and chuckling at complicated jokes as they suddenly dawned. He had the glee of the porpoise the, pouring and leaping through strange seas."

This is an influential book, inspiring a Disney animated film, and providing the template, in the figure of Merlyn, for such authors as Neil Gaiman and J.K. Rowling, who have both acknowledged a debt to White. I think I also see White's influence in some of Susan Cooper's Arthurian-linked fantasy series, The Dark Is Rising sequence. Well worth the time of any reader who enjoys fantasy fiction. For my part, I'd like to get to the longer work, The Once and Future King at some point.
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LibraryThing member kaipakartik
I really did enjoy this. I was swept away into the world. Its a strange sort of book and seems to exist in a world all of its own making.
A really enjoyable reading experience.
LibraryThing member Kateingilo
What can I say? This is just one of the most delightful books every written. A joy to read. Especially outloud.
LibraryThing member edgeworth
This is the first novel in a larger work by T.H. White called The Once and Future King, a wonderful title. Most people are probably more familiar with it as a Disney film adaptation from the 1960s, even if they haven’t seen it; for some reason I also always confuse it with the Black Cauldron film/video game, which is apparently based on a different series of novels called The Chronicles of Prydain by one Lloyd Alexander, loosely based on Welsh mythology.

The Once and Future King is an Arthurian fantasy, and The Sword in the Stone focuses on Arthur’s childhood as a boy nicknamed “the Wart,” growing up with his older brother Kay in a castle in England. Their father, Sir Ector, secures a tutor for them who happens to be the great wizard Merlin, and most of the book is a series of loosely connected little adventures, usually revolving around Merlin transforming the Wart into different animals so he can learn about how they live.

I’ve heard The Once and Future King described as one of the greatest fantasy series ever written, and I was surprised to find that The Sword in the Stone, at least, is extremely whimsical and not particularly serious. It’s not exactly a children’s book – I imagine a lot of the lengthier passages about bird calls and the finer points of jousting and hunting would bore most children, because they certainly bored me. But it sort of has the style of a children’s book; a whimsical fairytale set in Merry Old England, with White deliberately marking it as such:

In the Old England there was a great marvel still. The weather behaved itself.

In the spring, the little flowers came out of the meads, and the dew sparkled, and the birds sang. In the summer it was beautifully hot for no less than four months, and, if it did rain just enough for agricultural purposes, they managed to arrange it so that it rained while you were in bed. In the autumn the leaves flamed and rattled before the west winds, tempering their sad adieu with glory. And in the winter, which was confined by statute to two months, the snow lay evenly, three feet thick, but never turned to slush.


The novel is also full of anachronisms, usually expressed through wizard and time traveller Merlin, who constantly references people and inventions from the future which have no place in the Dark Ages. (Robin Hood also makes an appearance; my English mythology is a bit rusty but I’m pretty sure he’s not supposed to turn up until several centuries after King Arthur at least.) The Sword in the Stone is a funny little novel and not what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, and from what I’ve heard it grows considerably darker and more serious later in the series.
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Pages

256

Rating

(462 ratings; 3.9)
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