The Once and Future King is a compilation of 4 novels, each dealing with a different point in King Arthur's life. Based heavily on Le Mort d'Arthur by Malory, White takes the old stories and offers a modern retelling with some of his own embellishments. White's story is in turns funny, touching, noble, romantic, and terribly tragic. The story is so broad in scope that it's difficult to summarize. Interestingly, Arthur is one of the less memorable characters in the novel. One is more likely to remember the lively Merlyn, who lives his life backwards and almost certainly offered inspiration for Harry Potter's Dumbledore. Also featured prominently is the noble and tortured Sir Lancelot. A homely man who is the best knight in the land and believes in the idea of justice over might, his noble and pious ideas are at odds with his love for Guenevere, his best friend's wife, and many tear-stained pages are dedicated to his attempts to extinguish his passion. As is alluded throughout, it isn't justice that wins in the end, but the might and trickery of the unsavory characters, who are still remarkably sympathetic. The five Orkney brothers, presented as antagonistic allies throughout the entire novel, eventually bring everything to ruin, but not before making the reader see their side. Along the way, we see many tournaments, quashed rebellions, quests, magical detours, deaths, spurned lovers, animal transformations, and much hand-wringing about what is right and just. Written between 1938 and 1958, The Once and Future King is a slow and slightly cumbersome read due to the language used and the repetition of points throughout. Additionally, the frequent and jarring anachronisms are made worse by the fact they reference early 20th century phenomena and are sometimes difficult to understand. Unrelated to the writing style, another problem was White's attempts to reconcile the legends with his own sympathetic characters. White's kind and patient Arthur is not the man that sent a boat of infants to their deaths, but it has to happen. Having said that, it's still a rollicking tale, and if you can make it past the first few chapters, it comes highly recommended.
T. H. White's masterful retelling of the saga of King Arthur is a fantasy classic as legendary as Excalibur and Camelot, and a poignant story of adventure, romance and magic that has enchanted readers for generations. Once upon a time, a young boy called "Wart" was tutored by a magician named Merlyn in preparation for a future he couldn't possibly imagine. A future in which he would ally himself with the greatest knights, love a legendary queen and unite a country dedicated to chivalrous values. A future that would see him crowned and known for all time as Arthur, King of the Britons. During Arthur's reign, the kingdom of Camelot was founded to cast enlightenment on the Dark Ages, while the knights of the Round Table embarked on many a noble quest. But Merlyn foresaw the treachery that awaited his liege: the forbidden love between Queen Guenever and Lancelot, the wicked plots of Arthur's half-sister Morgause and the hatred she fostered in Mordred that would bring an end to the king's dreams for Britain--and to the king himself. " The Once and Future King] mingles wisdom, wonderful, laugh-out-loud humor and deep sorrow--while telling one of the great tales of the Western world."--Guy Gavriel Kay