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Another of the Retro Hugo nominees for Best Novel, which I had read long ago as a child. (NB that the version that appears as the first part of The Once And Future King has some signficant divergences from the standalone text.) I think it goes at the top of my list; it's a humane story of magic transforming a lonely child's life, which perhaps speaks to a lot of us, in a world where traditional social structures are not as strong as they appear and where external threats are potentially deadly - the sequence with Madam Mim, for instance, is pretty alarming (and it's unfortunate that she is the only real female character in the book). Some of the transformation sequences - the birds and the fish, for instance - are freighted with symbolism. I had forgotten, or perhaps never noticed on previous readings decades ago, that the ending is reasonably well signalled in advance, mainly (though not exclusively) by Merlin. I suspect that Out of the Silent Planet will win, but this (just about) gets my vote.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 4th, 2014 07:13 am (UTC)
This is a fine book, funny and humane. Yes, the 1958 version was significantly different -- an aging White decided that the real point of the pentalogy was an anti-war message. So he rewrote TSitS to make that fit, taking out a couple of sequences (Madam Mim and another) and replacing them with the "ant" and "wild goose" episodes. Those aren't *horrible*, but they're less fun than what they're replacing, and frankly they don't fit the book very well; the series as a while may end up being about war and the ways to fight against it, Might and Right, but the first book really was not. In modern terms, it's a clumsy retcon.

Anyway. As various people have noted, TSitS is a huge sourcebook for modern fantasy; everyone from Michael Moorcock to J.K. Rowling has acknowledged it as inspiration. The subsequent books don't seem to have gained as much traction, which is a bit of a shame -- I wouldn't call them great Arthuriana, but they're a mixture of thoughtful psychological study and medievalist fun, and thoroughly worth reading.

One thing that struck me on the most recent reread is the extent to which having a magical tutor, while incredibly fun and cool, does not solve Wart's problems. Merlin notwithstanding, he's still a bastard, still an orphan, and still destined to a low-status life as Kay's squire. None of that changes until the last few pages of the book.

There are several delightful set pieces here. Everyone remembers the duel with Madame Mim, but the scene where he pulls the sword out is just lovely. Cohere, cohere.

Doug M.
Jun. 4th, 2014 07:32 pm (UTC)
The "ant" and "wild goose" episodes are of course out-takes from The Book of Merlyn, published after White died.
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