The Sword in The Stone

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White, Terence Hanbury

The Sword in the Stone. Penguin Group: London, January 1, 1939. ISBN#0-399-25502-1, 256 Pages, 25 Bucks Hardcover. Illustrated by Dennis Nolan.

The Sword in the Stone by Terence Hanbury White

The Sword in the Stone is a novel written by a British writer, Terence Hanbury “Tim” White and published in 1938. T. H. White was an English author best known for his Arthurian novels, The Once and Future King and The Sword in the Stone. T. H. White was born on May 29, 1906, in Bombay, British India and died on January 17, 1964, aged 57. The Sword in the Stone presents a story of Wart from the day he acquires magician Merlyn as his teacher to the day he pulls the sword from its stone. The Sword in the Stone serves as a prequel to The Once and Future King since it provides detailed information concerning the growth of one, King Arthur. This paper offers a comprehensive book review of the novel, The Sword in the Stone.

Characters and Setting

Wart who happens to be an orphan is in the care of Sir Ector and Ector’s son, Kay takes the responsibility of bringing up Wart. Wart is destined to become Kay’s squire once Kay becomes a knight, therefore, they are brought up together and even school together with Kay. Arthur’s story is contained in four books, but this happens to be the first narration with a sad but hopeful ending. The story opens with Wart in the Forest Sauvage where he is trying to rescue an escaped goshawk, Cully. In the forest, he meets Merlyn, the magician. Merlyn is accompanied by his owl, Archimedes. Wart, Merlyn and Archimedes return to Sir Ector’s castle. Here, Merlyn acquires the responsibility of tutoring Wart and Kay. Merlyn is enthusiastic and leads Wart in magical experiences. Merlyn is living a backward life and is aware of what is going to happen next. Therefore, Wart is taught out of the experience. Sometimes, Merlyn transforms Wart into a fish, a snake, a badger or a falcon to teach him defence from dangers and to have courage. Wart understands that these magical experiences possess valuable lessons in his life. Sir Ector’s castle is mediaeval comprising a drawbridge, moat, falcons, hunting dos and jousts. Kay and Wart, therefore, need to learn practicalities through archery and jousting lessons. The two also meet Robin Wood and see King Pellinore and Sir Grummore duel. These are some of the anachronisms used by the author to add humour and express relevant information to the reader. Also, Merlyn uses psychotherapy, a notion of science, to cure Wat, the lunatic instead of applying magic.

Wart’s Journey and the Sword in the Stone

Kay and Wart continue to learn much and the plot setting changes. It is now time for Wart to fulfil his destiny and become King Arthur. The setting changes from the Castle of the Forest Sauvage to London. In London, the sword suddenly stuck in the stone. The sword later came out of the stone for Wart only since he had been taught how to be the sort of people for whom swords can come out of stones. The novel is full of exciting adventures and furnishes children on the powers and strength present in gentleness and disciplined restraint.

Themes and Analysis

My preconception before reading The Sword in the Stone was that it is a child’s book but came to understand it serves all the ages. The novel is geared towards a younger audience and also presents some romantic scenes for the adults. The Sword in the Stone can be described as a delightful novel that presents the journey of a young leader through their adolescence and portrays the value of good education. Merlyn and Wart depict an excellent teacher-to-student relationship. This relationship is evident through the kind of advice Merlyn gives Wart, “The best thing for disturbances of the spirit,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins…there is only one thing for it then – to learn” (White 228). The author also must have applied his unique ability to make one believe the landscape perspective of the current animal since Merlyn is constantly changing young Wart into a variety of animals to teach him survival lessons. Secondly, the cast of characters in this novel is vibrant. The author makes use of typical retinue of a castle, knights, and a witch from the woods and even creatures living beyond the forest. “It was July, and real July weather, such as they had in Old England. Everybody went bright brown, like Red Indians, with startling teeth and flashing eyes. The dogs moved about with their tongues hanging out, or lay panting in bits of shade, while the farm horses sweated through their coats and flicked their tails and tried to kick the horse-flies off their bellies with their great hind hoofs.” (White 23). Here, the author applies a flavorful description throughout the novel. This strategy presents the reader with an accurate portrayal of the season, location and the moment in time.


However, some moments presented in the novel are comical and seem to be slightly out of order. A good example is when the author stated that, “What with the warmth and the chickens and the cream he had poured over his pudding and the continual repassing of the boys and the tock of their arrows in the targets – which was as sleepy to listen to as a lawn-mower – and the dance of the egg-shaped sunspots between the leaves of his tree, the aged magician was soon fast asleep” (White 38). Here the author compares a long past story to a modern machine, lawn mower. These scenarios of comparing various identities that do not match are frequently applied in the novel.

Final Thoughts

In a nutshell, The Sword in the Stone is a British fashioned novel full of long passages of description, advanced vocabulary, historical references and dialects. Dennis Nolan gorgeously illustrates the original book making it a good read for both children and adults. Any experienced reader and listener can explicitly describe it as the beautifully written version of the Arthurian cycle. The virtues associated with King Arthur and Camelot are easily identified since they are condensed into a real child who probably never comes off as unctuous.

August 21, 2023



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