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Greeting Spring with Wart, Merlyn, & Archimedes!

The Lands of King Arthur: Cornish Spring (pic by Adam Burton)

The Lands of King Arthur: Cornish Spring (pic by Adam Burton)

3.20.14   Greeting Spring with Wart, Merlyn, & Archimedes in T.H. White’s “The Once & Future King”

Good Afternoon, Everyone!

T.H. White, The Once & Future King (Folio Edition)

T.H. White, The Once & Future King (Folio Edition)

Happy Spring, and I’m welcoming the season with a passage from T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, because…well, it’s one of my favorite books & in the midst of this series of blogs about the pitfalls of some epic fantasy stories, I’m feeling a need to refresh myself with some sparkling prose.  In this scene, Wart (the future King Arthur) is continuing his tutelage under Merlin.

Enjoy, Folks.  This is literary epic fantasy at its finest!


The Lands of King Arthur: Cornwall Cliffs in Spring

The Lands of King Arthur: Cornwall Cliffs in Spring

from T.H. White, The Once and Future King, “Book I: The Sword in the Stone,” Chapter 17:

“I think it must be time,” said Merlyn, looking at Wart over the top of his spectacles one afternoon, “that you had another dose of education.  That is, as Time goes.”

Merlyn & Arthur

Merlyn & Arthur

It was an afternoon in early spring and everything outside the window looked beautiful.  The winter mantle had gone, taking with it Sir Grummore, Master Twyti, King Pellinore, and the Questing Beast — the latter having revived under the influence of kindliness and bread and milk. It had bounded off into the snow with every sign of gratitude, to be followed two hours later by the excited king, and the watchers from the battlements had observed its snowy footprints most ingeniously, as it reached the edge of the chase.  It was running backward, bounding twenty foot sideways, rubbing out its marks with its tail, climbing along horizontal branches, and performing many other tricks with evident enjoyment.  They had also seen King Pellinore — who had dutifully kept his eyes shut and counted ten thousand while this was going on — becoming quite confused when he arrived at the difficult spot, and finally galloping off in the wrong direction with his brachet trailing behind him.

The Lands of King Arthur: Wales in Spring

The Lands of King Arthur: Wales in Spring

It was a lovely afternoon.  Outside the schoolroom window the larches of the distant forest had already taken on the fullness of their dazzling green, the earth twinkled and swelled with a million drops, and every bird in the world had come home to court and sing. The village folk were forth in their gardens every evening, planting garden beans, and it seemed that, what with these emergencies and those of the slugs (coincidentally with the beans), the buds, the lambs, and the birds, every living thing had conspired to come out.

Merlyn & Archimedes (Trevor Stubley)

Merlyn & Archimedes (Trevor Stubley)

“What would you like to be?” asked Merlyn.

Wart looked out of the window, listening to the thrush’s twice-done song of dew.

He said, “I might have been a bird once, but it was only in the mews at night, and I never got a chance to fly. Even if one ought not to do one’s education twice, do you think I could be a bird so as to learn about that?”

He had been bitten with the craze for birds which bites all sensible people in the spring, and which sometimes even leads to excesses like birds’ nesting.

Merlin & Archimedes the Owl (from T.H. White's "The Once and Future King," illustration by John Lawrence)

Merlin & Archimedes the Owl (from T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” illustration by John Lawrence)

“I can see no reason why you should not,” said the magician.  “Why not try it at night?”

“But they will be asleep at night.”

“All the better chance of seeing them, without their flying away.  You could go with Archimedes this evening, and he could tell you about them.”

“Would you do that, Archimedes?”

“I should love to,” said the owl. “I was feeling like a little saunter myself.”

“Do you know,” asked the Wart, thinking of the thrush, “why birds sing, or how? Is it a language?”

“Of course it is a language.  It is not a big language like human speech, but it is large…”

Next time:  Continuing an assessment of epic fantasy’s depiction of women…

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