Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Once and Future King (Penguin Galaxy)

Penguin Random House has a history of publishing some of the best and most timeless books in the business. These classics include not only the likes of Homer and Shakespeare, but modern classics like E. Nesbit and William Golding. Recently, they released Penguin Galaxy Series, which includes six iconic works of science fiction and fantasy. The titles are as follows - 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dune, Neuromancer, The Left Hand of Darkness, Stranger in a Strange Land, and my personal favorite The Once and Future King.

For those of you who don't know, The Once and Future King is T. H. White's telling of the legend of King Arthur. The first part of the book, The Sword and the Stone, is where Disney drew his inspiration for the animated classic of the same name. Even though, I personally think Walt butchered the story. The Penguin Galaxy edition of this book is a meaty hardcover, over 700 pages in length. Like the other books in the Penguin Galaxy Series, it begins with an introduction by Neil Gaiman. In this introduction, he begins by talking about reading five of the six books in this series around his twelfth birthday. He then defines the term science fiction. He then goes on to describe his personal encounters with each book. When he initially read The Sword and the Stone, he found it to be a delightful children's story, but when White re-wrote it and incorporated it into The Once and Future King, the charming story had become a bit darker and focused on human nature and government. If you are a fan of Gaiman and his work, like my wife, you will find the introduction to be an interesting look in the mind of an author. If you're like me any only casually know him, you could take it or leave it.

As for the book itself, if you have read it before, this is the story you know and love in the hardcover edition it deserves. If you don't know the story, I'll give you a brief synopsis. The Sword and the Stone involves Wart is raised by Sir Ector, tutored by Merlin, pulls the sword from the stone, and becomes King Arthur. The Queen of Air and Darkness involves Queen Morgause and King Lot opposing King Arthur. Arthur defeats him (with Merlin's help), and Morgause seduces Arthur (who is actually her brother) and gives birth to Mordred. The Ill-Made Knight finally introduces us to Lancelot and Guinevere. Arthur's life and kingdom is slipping out of control, and the knights are sent on the quest for the Holy Grail. The Candle in the Wind is when Arthur and everyone else is old and grey. Lots of killing goes on. Arthur must confront the secret truth he already knows about Lancelot and Guinevere. Mordred wants the throne, and the kingdom falls apart. Before he dies, he tells his story to a page so that hopefully the ideals can live on, and we are told the legend that Arthur will return at some point in the future, which is where we get the title for this book.

I really love this story and could read it once a year if I had time. If you are a fan of Arthurian legend at all, you need this book in your collection. It will not only expand your horizons, it will make you look at some characters in a whole new light, particularly Sir Kay. "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 it."

This book was provided to me for free by Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.