Entry updated 22 March 2021. Tagged: Author.
(1906-1964) Indian-born author, in the UK from the age of five, where he was raised by relatives; his overwhelming nostalgia for a lost England expressed itself vividly throughout his nonfiction, as well as in his two best-known fictional works, the nonfantastic Farewell Victoria (1933), and The Once and Future King (omni/novel 1958), a superlative tragicomic fantasia on Le Morte Darthur (written before 1471; 1485) by Sir Thomas Malory (1415/1418-1471). The Once and Future King is sometimes treated as a sequence and could therefore also be inscribed here as The Once and Future King. The whole is made up of three earlier novels [see below and see Checklist], each here substantially recast, plus a previously unpublished fourth section, and is effectively readable as a single tale about the making of an adult Hero, or rather of two contrasting versions of the hero: King Arthur and Sir Lancelot. It was adapted by Alan Jay Lerner (1918-1986) into the stage musical Camelot (1960), and filmed as Camelot (1967) directed by Joshua Logan.
In their original, separately published versions, the first three novels – The Sword in the Stone: An Historical Novel (1938; rev vt The Sword in the Stone 1939), which was made into The Sword in the Stone (1963) directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, a philistine feature cartoon from the Disney firm; The Witch in the Wood (1939), massively cut and retitled "The Queen of Air and Darkness" in the recasting; and The Ill-Made Knight (1940), which focuses on Lancelot – are themselves of very considerable interest as fantasias, as is the fourth part, "The Candle in the Wind", based on an unpublished play from the 1930s but written circa 1940, which applies a hindsight melancholy to the whole. Though there is some question as to what exactly may have happened at this point, it does seem that White's original fifth part, The Book of Merlyn (written circa 1940-1941; 1977), was found objectionable by his UK publishers because of its pacifist content; in any case, The Once and Future King (1958), with further small revisions though minus The Book of Merlyns, essentially retains an entre deux guerres melancholy, shading into expressions of anguish about World War Two. The tale as a whole constitutes a remarkable and pessimistic exploration of the complexity of Evil and of the loss of innocence (see also Crime and Punishment). It is specifically notable as a pre-J R R Tolkien lament addressed to the decay of the Matter of Britain, modern England being envisioned with particular venom in the ant Dystopia to which Merlyn subjects the young Arthur as part of his education [for Arthur, Disney, Sir Thomas Malory, Matter and Once and Future King see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. In its original form, The Sword in the Stone was voted a Retro Hugo for best novel of 1938 at the 2014 Worldcon.
Following an early Gothic, Dead Mr Nixon (1931) with R McNair Scott, and a mystery, Darkness at Pemberley (1932), White's work of genre interest begins with the Earth Stopped sequence, Earth Stopped; Or, Mr Marx's Sporting Tour (1934) and Gone to Ground: a Novel (coll of linked stories/novel 1935), in the first volume of which, after some Satire in the tone of some early version of Evelyn Waugh channelling Robert Surtees (1805-1864), a Communist revolution ignites a devastating Holocaust, underlining the points White wished to make about contemporary civilization through the conversations and fox-hunting manias of his large cast. In the second volume, the Post-Holocaust survivors of this final Future War tell each other exemplary tales while hiding in a bomb shelter (the dustjacket supplies a subtitle not cited in the book, "Or the Sporting Decameron": see Club Story). The White scholar Kurth Sprague (1934-2007) reprinted as The Maharajah, and Other Stories (coll 1981) the extractable stories from Gone to Ground, but, without acknowledging his actions, eliminated the author's linking material (amounting to at least fifty pages of narrative) while substituting his own story titles for White's arrangement by chapter, invisibly stripping these tales of their intended context and hoped-for impact.
Mistress Masham's Repose (1946) tells how a group of Lilliputians, transported to England by Gulliver (see Imperialism), have survived in the capacious grounds of the vast estate of Malplaquet for 200 years, until a young girl almost destroys them by treating them as pets (see Great and Small; Zoo). The protagonist of The Elephant and the Kangaroo (1947) is a mocking self-portrait of the author, who becomes a new Noah in a hilariously pixilated Eire as the waters rise (see Ship of Fools). In The Master (1957), a Scientific Romance which may be White's only work of fiction entirely conceived after the trauma of the War, a boy and a girl come across a plot to rule the world from the deserted Island of Rockall, where the Merlyn-like Secret Master in utero, 157 years old, has perfected both Hypnotic control and a vibration device that will destroy all machines; fortunately he trips over the children's dog, injures himself, and drowns himself in the sea. White's sf was of a piece with all his work, sharing the sentimentality, satirical power, sadness, longing for retrospective havens, manic humour and compassion of his best fantasy. [JC]
Terence Hanbury White
born Bombay, India: 29 May 1906
died Piraeus, Athens, Greece: 17 January 1964
- Earth Stopped; Or, Mr Marx's Sporting Tour (London: Collins, 1934) [Earth Stopped: hb/Lane Foster]
- Gone to Ground: a Novel (London: Collins, 1935) [coll of linked stories/novel: Earth Stopped: hb/J Z Atkinson]
- The Maharajah and Other Stories (New York: Putnam, 1981) [coll: cut vt of the above: all fifty pages of linking material eliminated without acknowledgment: edited by Kurth Sprague: Earth Stopped: hb/David Palladini]
The Once and Future King
- The Sword in the Stone: An Historical Novel (London: Collins, 1938) [The Once and Future King: hb/]
- The Sword in the Stone (New York: G P Putnam's Sons, 1939) [rev vt of the above: The Once and Future King: hb/Robert Lawson]
- The Witch in the Wood (New York: G P Putnam's Sons, 1939) [The Once and Future King: hb/]
- The Ill-Made Knight (New York: G P Putnam's Sons, 1940) [The Once and Future King: hb/]
- The Once and Future King (London: Collins, 1958) [omni/novel of the above three plus "The Candle in the Wind": reworked into a single narrative: The Once and Future King: hb/]
- The Book of Merlyn (Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1977) [The Once and Future King: hb/Trevor Stubley]
- Mistress Masham's Repose (New York: G P Putnam's Sons, 1946) [illus/hb/Fritz Eichenberg]
- The Elephant and the Kangaroo (New York: G P Putnam's Sons, 1947) [hb/nonpictorial]
- The Master (London: Jonathan Cape, 1957) [hb/T H White]
- England Have My Bones (London: Collins, 1936) [nonfiction: hb/T H White]
- The Book of Beasts: Being a Translation from a Latin Bestiary of the Twelfth Century Made and Edited by T H White (London: Jonathan Cape, 1954) [nonfiction: hb/nonpictorial]
- The Godstone and the Blackymor (London: Jonathan Cape, 1959) [nonfiction: illus/hb/Edward Ardizzone]
about the author
- Sylvia Townsend Warner. T.H. White: A Biography (New York: Viking Press, 1968) [nonfiction: hb/]
- L Sprague de Camp. "The Architect of Camelot: T.H. White" in Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy (Sauk City, Wisconsin: Arkham House, 1976) [nonfiction: coll: hb/Tim Kirk]
- Elisabeth Brewer. T H White's The Once and Future King (Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: D S Brewer, 1993) [nonfiction: hb/Kenneth Hempel, head of author]
- Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- The Encyclopedia of Fantasy: Arthur; Disney; Sir Thomas Malory; Matter; Once and Future King.
- Picture Gallery
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