This past fall, I’ve been on a bit of King Arthur kick. I discovered that one of my favorite authors, John Steinbeck, had written a version of Arthurian legend, the Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights, which I’ve been savoring, and on Labor Day, while rummaging through a library’s book sale, I found an old copy of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. Interestingly, my wife and I adopted a small kitten just hours later, whom we named Merlin, completely by coincidence. I’d long ago owned a copy of The Sword in the Stone (and as a child, loved the movie), but have long since parted with it. The book has appeared on my radar more frequently due to Lev Grossman’s repeated efforts to raise its profile a bit.
However, for such a momentous novel, the author is a relative mystery. Grossman has pointed out that there’s little on him: a single biography, and a couple of other random books, and prior to looking around, he seemed to be a mysterious figure who’s been outdone by the successes of his novel.
Here are the sources that I used for the post:
T.H. White: A Biography, Sylvia Townsend Warner: This biography is really the only one readily available on T.H. White. Published in the 1960s, it’s a fairly comprehensive overview of his life, although there are points where I wonder about her analysis: she seems to fixate and speculate on his sexuality, while not entirely giving enough credit to how he ticked mentally. She does do an excellent job in tying together papers and letters to put together a fairly in depth and detailed look at the man’s life.
The Book of Merlyn, T.H. White: Sylvia Townsend Warner pops up again in this edition of White’s saga, which has never been published with The Once and Future King (That book is composed of four novels), and she provides a rough biographical sketch of White’s years writing the novels.
Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature, Vol. 3, by Frank Magill: This series provides an excellent critical review of The Once and Future King. This one focuses quite a bit on the Sword in the Stone, but it goes a good service to the other novels in the book.
Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination, by Richard Matthews: This book provides a good overview of White’s career and some analysis of his book.