Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Once and Future King (Naxos Audiobooks)

We all have those books from our youth that we re-visit and reread every few years. For some, it's The Lord of the Rings. For my wife, it's Harry Potter and A Wrinkle in Time. For me, it's The Once and Future King by T.H. White. Unfortunately, with work, commutes, childrearing, errands, chores, the need for sleep, etc. who really has time to sit down and read a 600+ page book anymore? Here's a better question, how do we encourage our children to read these wonderful books and series, when we barely have time to read them ourselves? One of mine, and many people's, favorite solutions to this problem is AUDIOBOOKS! You have to be very careful when selecting your audiobooks, because they can be abridged or unabridged. Imagine the horror of buying an audiobook of your favorite book only to find half of it missing because it's abridged. Another thing to look out for is the narrator. Preview the audiobook, if at all possible, before buying it. If you hate the voice for a few minutes, imagine how crazy you'll feel after hearing it for 8+ hours. Maybe it'll grow on you. Usually, it just grates on you!

So what are my opinions about The Once and Future King, both the story and the audiobook presentation? Let's start with the story! Most of us know the basics of King Arthur, either because of Disney or popular culture. There have been movies, television shows, and even musicals about his mythology. Some people enjoy Arthurian legend in the form of poetry, like Tennyson, which are beautiful, but I prefer reading about King Arthur in prose. That is why The Once and Future King is my favorite work of Arthurian legend. The book originally had four parts:

  • The Sword in the Stone
  • The Queen of Air and Darkness (also known as The Witch in the Wood)
  • The Ill-Made Knight
  • The Candle in the Wind
A fifth part called, "The Book of Merlyn" was written in 1941 and published separately, but it was printed in later editions. "The Sword in the Stone" is the story that everyone knows in large thanks to Disney. It details a young Arthur, known as Wart, his upbringing, his tutelage under Merlyn. Merlyn prepares Wart for being a good king by turning him into different animals and teaching him a lesson that will help him in his later role as king. Of course, the Wart has no idea that he will be king eventually. Even though, Arthur and Merlyn are the main focus of, I like T.H. White's treatment of Kay. Disney portrays him as a bit of a villain, but it's not as bad in the book. He is described as such: "He was not at all an unpleasant person really, but clever, quick, proud, passionate and ambitious. He was one of those people who would be neither a follower nor a leader, but only an aspiring heart, impatient in the failing body which imprisoned him."


"The Witch in the Wood" introduces us to Morgause, Arthur's half-sister. She seduces Arthur and gives birth to Mordred, the son who will eventually be the downfall of King Arthur. The Round Table is also introduced into the series. "The Ill-Made Knight" brings in two key characters in Arthurian mythology - Lancelot and Guinevere. King Arthur meets Lancelot at an early age, and tells him about his want to end the world of the mentality, "might is right." Lancelot trains for three years and eventually becomes the greatest knight in King Arthur's court. Lancelot leads a troubled life. He unfortunately falls in love with Guinevere, but can't be with her as she is wed to King Arthur. He is tricked into sleeping with a woman named Elaine, and she bears a son named Galahad. Eventually, Lancelot and Guinevere give into their lust and have an affair.

"The Candle in the Wind" is where the story builds and reaches a bitter end. The glory of Camelot is under threat by Mordred and Agravaine. Mordred hates King Arthur and Agravaine hates Lancelot, so they come up with a plan to destroy them, by revealing the secret of Lancelot and Guinevere. There is very little happiness and joy in the part. "The Book of Merlyn" chronicles Merlyn's final lessons to Arthur before his death. After learning these lessons, Arthur wants a truce with Mordred, and it looks promising, but a solider on Mordred's side draws his sword to kill a snake. This sign is misinterpreted as treason, and battle ensues with Arthur and Mordred killing each other. After Arthur's death, Guinevere joins a convent and Lancelot becomes a hermit.

Hearing this book read to me by Neville Jason was a great treat! He has a very regal voice, which is the kind of voice you'd expect when reading Arthurian mythology. He also does different character voices, something not every audiobook reader does. The voices have a great tone to them and make the characters really come alive. You can listen to a sample by following this link. After listening to this book, I don't think I'll ever be able to read it with my own two eyes again. He literally transformed the book and took me to this mythological time and place. I want to research other audiobooks he did and buy them just because he reads them.

So what age should you let your children start reading these works? Only you know your child best, but your child can read/listen to "The Sword and the Stone" in elementary school. There is a little bit of swearing in the beginning by Sir Ector, so be warned of that. Boys will also like this more than girls, because of knights and jousting, but your girls might like it too. Luckily, you can purchase it separately from the other four parts by clicking here. The other four books have adult themes and would probably best be saved until high school. If they read it earlier, the concepts of incest, adultery, and sexual promiscuity will probably go over their heads. Whatever your child reads though, you should read with them so that you can answer questions that might arise. Some parents might dislike this book altogether because of black magic. However, it would be a shame to discount this entire book because of that and some adult themes. Just be a good parent. Give it to them at an appropriate age. Be there to answer any questions they have, and let them know what is morally right and what is morally wrong in the book.

This audiobook was provided to me for free by Naxos Audiobooks in exchange for an honest review. You can pick up a copy of this audiobook directly from their site in digital format, from Amazon in CD format, or Audible.