The Sword in the Stone
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|Author||T. H. White|
|Series||The Once and Future King|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Followed by||The Queen of Air and Darkness|
The Sword in the Stone is a novel by T. H. White, published in 1938, initially as a stand-alone work but now the first part of a tetralogy The Once and Future King. A fantasy of the boyhood of King Arthur, it is a sui generis work which combines elements of legend, history, fantasy and comedy. Walt Disney Productions adapted the story to an animated film, and the BBC adapted it to radio.
|“||Whoso Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of all England.||”|
The premise is that Arthur's youth, not dealt with in Malory, was a time when he was tutored by Merlyn to prepare him for the use of power and royal life. Merlyn magically turns Wart into various animals at times. He also has more human adventures, at one point meeting the outlaw Robin Hood (who is referred to in the novel as Robin Wood). The setting is loosely based on Medieval England, and in places it incorporates White's considerable knowledge of medieval culture (as in relation to hunting, falconry and jousting). However it makes no attempt at consistent historical accuracy, and incorporates some obvious anachronisms (aided by the concept that Merlyn lives backwards in time rather than forwards, unlike everyone else).
The English Collins first edition was partially rewritten for Putnam in America. On September 2, 1938, White wrote to David Garnett: "You were quite right about the Anthropophagi: I had always felt uncomfortable about them, and the American book club made me substitute 3 complete chapters about griffins, wyverns etc. for them, before they would take the book".
The version appearing in 1958 in the tetralogy was substantially revised, partly to incorporate events and themes that White had originally intended to cover in a fifth volume (which was finally published after his death, as The Book of Merlyn). To this end, the revised version includes several new episodes, including a pacifist passage in which Arthur is transformed into a wild goose that flies so high as to not be able to perceive national boundaries. It leaves out some of the episodes that had appeared in the original (notably Merlyn's battle with Madam Mim which appeared in the Disney film). Some critics considered the revised version to be inferior to the original.  Publishers have tended to carry on using the original versions when they were published independently of the tetralogy; the original, American, and "Once and Future King" versions are still in print.
The reasons White made the last revisions are open to speculation. The Sword in the Stone, although it includes some serious themes, is to some extent a rather whimsical fantasy of Merry England. Its connection with the classical Arthurian legend was actually rather limited, although what it did take from the Arthurian legend was accurate. It was awkward to treat this as the first part of a more serious treatment of the Arthurian legend. It is also possible that White felt in a darker mood after the Second World War. It has also been said that due to wartime censorship, the publishers did not want to print some of White's more strident anti-War sentiments (which are very prevalent in The Book of Merlyn).
Walt Disney Productions made an animated movie adaptation of The Sword in the Stone, first released on December 25, 1963 by Buena Vista Distribution. Like most Disney films, it is based on the general plot of the original story, but much of the substance of the story is considerably changed.
The BBC broadcast a six-part radio dramatisation in 1939, with incidental music by Benjamin Britten. It was revived in 1952, following re-discovery of Britten's score after it had been thought lost. A further BBC radio adaptation in 1982 starred Michael Hordern as Merlyn. Hordern had already starred as another great literary wizard, Tolkien's Gandalf, in the BBC's 1981 radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.
- Keenan, Hugh T. British Children's Writers, 1914-1960
- Britten Pears Foundation, Britten Thematic Catalogue http://18.104.22.168/works/BTC861
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