2007: 116. The Book of Merlyn

“It was not the Bishop of Rochester.

The king turned his head away from the newcomer, incurious as to his identity.”

The Book of Merlyn, T.H. White

This book is the final chapter to The Once and Future King. Or, rather it was supposed to be, but for reasons that were explained in the introduction (but obviously not so clearly) it was never added to the book.  Instead, a few parts (the geese and the ants) were added to The Sword and the Stone, and the rest was never published.  It tells the story of King Arthur’s final days.  As he is in his last sad battle against Mordred (or rather against Lancelot - I told you it was sad!), Merlyn visits him and takes him back to the burrow where he can relive the days of his youth and visit the animals once again.  It is meant to be a full circle return to The Sword in the Stone.

I’m torn about this book. I should tell you that The Once and Future King  was one of my favorite books growing up, and I had (as does the author!) a total literary crush on poor Arthur, who tries to do his best but is outdone by fate (and, it must be admitted, his own shabby actions in re Mordred).  The editors were clearly right in excising this chapter - it is more preachy than storytelling, and that is always a fatal flaw (see e.g. Atlas Shrugged, shudder).  White wants to talk about man’s failings and does so at length and is quite didactic, while the whole previous book has made the same point through tragic plot, which is much more effective.  But oh! It was nice to see Arthur again, and Merlyn and the badger and hedgehog and the rest.  When Arthur says something “with one of his sweet smiles” my heart breaks for him.  

I haven’t re-read The Once and Future King for years, afraid it wouldn’t be as good as I remembered.  The Book of Merlyn, though not perfect, reassured me that I would still love White’s masterpiece, and so, I am glad I read this, after all.

Recommended for:  People who loved The Once and Future King and want more - the rest of you should read that instead!!  

Date/Place Completed:  6/27/07; D.C.

Categories: Fiction; Commuting Book

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017