Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Picking Up an Old Classic

It's sort of a book review, and sort of not a book review at the same time...

Because I'm writing about a book I'm rereading, but haven't read in about 8-9 years (wow, really?). I'm in the middle right now, so does that count as a review of a book I've already read, though I don't really remember what happens?

The novel in question is a slender, library-edition The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White. This is the same author who wrote The Once and Future King, a much lengthier, denser novel that defeated me at a much younger age. I wonder where my copy got to...perhaps I should pick up another and give it a second go.

T.H. White also must not be confused with E.B. White, who wrote The Elements of Style, which is also an excellent book. The two bear, as far as I can tell, no relation.

The Sword in the Stone is a small, comical, beautiful book written with glorious descriptions and a healthy dose of irony and the kind of humor that glimmers out of the corner of a grandfather's eye. Merlyn is more of a powerful-buffoon of a character (In fact I wouldn't be surprised if Peter Jackson either was consciously or subconsciously influenced by the character for his recent version of Radagast in The Hobbit) who carries mice in his hat and has bird excrement in his beard (hence the vision of Radagast). But, like Gandalf the Grey, he can be fearsome and terrible when he needs to be.

The Wart (our young Arthur who will one day be King when he draws the sword from the stone) is a clever, unassuming boy who sees things with such open purity that the whole book feels fresh and clean, like rainfall and moonlight. That is of course terribly poetic of me, but I don't care. The book is not written in a "poetic" style, but it has moments, glimmers where something truly beautiful peeks out. And there are many poetic or beautiful scenes that hide behind plainer, more comedic speech, but they are there if you take the time to see them.

It's the kind of book that tells a classic story that everyone knows-- or, at least everyone should-- but in a way that you would never expect. You may well know the 1963 cartoon version of The Sword in the Stone. I won't speak to the movie's accuracy, having not seen it in well over 15 years, but the sense of what I remember is near to the mark. Solemn in some moments, curious always, and sometimes slightly ridiculous.

It's a joyous book (reminds me of reading J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan for the first time) and I would recommend anyone interested in Arthurian literature-- or not-- to give it a go.

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