The Book of Merlyn
|Publisher||University of Texas Press|
|Preceded by||The Once and Future King|
The book opens as King Arthur prepares himself for his final battle. Merlyn reappears to complete Arthur's education and discover the cause of wars. As he did in The Sword in the Stone, Merlyn again demonstrates ethics and politics to Arthur by transforming him into various animals.
The last chapter of the book takes place only hours before the final battle between King Arthur and his son and nephew Mordred. Arthur does not want to fight after everything that he has learned from Merlyn. He makes a deal with Mordred to split England in half. Mordred accepts. During the making of this deal, a snake comes upon one of Mordred's soldiers. The soldier draws his sword. The opposing side, unaware of the snake, takes this as an act of betrayal. Arthur's troops attack Mordred's, and both Arthur and Mordred die in the battle that follows.
Concept & Creation
White was inspired to write this book upon determining that the key theme of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur is to find an "antidote for war". Rather than containing a distinct plot, this book reads more like a discourse on war and human nature.
Originally submitted for publication in 1941, due to wartime paper shortages White was unable to convince his publisher to include The Book of Merlyn as part of the collected edition of The Once and Future King (which was first published in its entirety in 1958).
He nevertheless managed to salvage parts of this rejected text. While revising The Sword in the Stone for the collected edition, he adapted scenes from The Book of Merlyn. The unfortunate consequence is that parts of The Book of Merlyn appear to be rehashing things White has already covered earlier in the collected version of The Once and Future King.
Rediscovery & Publication
The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin purchased the bulk of White's personal papers and manuscripts between 1967 and 1969. The original manuscript for The Book of Merlyn was discovered amongst this collection, and was prepared for publication by the University of Texas Press in 1977, as The Book of Merlyn: The Unpublished Conclusion to The Once and Future King, with prologue by Sylvia Townsend Warner and illustrations by Trevor Stubley.
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