Sunday, August 28, 2022

Fortnightly Book, August 28

She is not any common earth
Water or wood or air,
But Merlin's Isle of Gramarye
Where you and I will fare.

 Terence Hanbury White was born in Bombay (modern day Mumbai) in 1906. He eventually went to Cambridge, where he wrote his thesis on Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. It was only in 1937, though, after he had written a few science fiction novels and stories, that he picked up Malory and was struck that the whole tale was structured like a well-plotted tragedy and that the characters were all very plausible and realistic. He began to write a novel based on it, as a preface to Malory, that would deal with the various aspects of the story and that would make its heavy and serious theme palatable by drawing out the humor of some of Malory's actual characters. This was published in 1938 as The Sword in the Stone, and was eventually followed by three more works: The Witch in the Wood, The Ill-Made Knight, and The Candle in the Wind. These all were re-written during the Second World War, in ways that are usually considered to make the stories somewhat darker than they had originally been, and combined together into a long work, The Once and Future King, which is the fortnightly book.

The Once and Future King has four parts:

(I) The Sword in the Stone
(II) The Queen of Air and Darkness
(III) The Ill-Made Knight
(IV) The Candle in the Wind

And traces the story of Arthur from his birth to just before his death. The entire tale takes place in the late Middle Ages of an alternative Britain, sometimes called the Isle of Gramarye, in which our historical kings of Britain are mythical, and explores the themes of Might and Right in ways that reflect on the terrible wars of the twentieth century.