This is one of those stories that is considered a children's book, but that really crosses the age groups to teach and entertain anyone who picks it up. It's another book that I've read more times than I can count.
It was written by White as a stand alone novel, telling of the young days of King Arthur, and how he came to become the sort of young man who would be worthy to be the King of England and to found the Round Table. Later, White wrote more novels that combined together to become "The Once and Future King" but the rest of the story is rather dark and I feel too much for Arthur to enjoy reading it, though I have done so a couple of times over the years.
The first book, The Sword in the Stone, though, is a delight. Many of us know the story as it was told by Disney, and to be sure, that story has plenty of charm of its own.
For me, though, they missed the point of the story. Arthur became who he was via a series of journeys brought about for him via the magic of his tutor, Merlin. It's a Shamanic story, a story which many Druids will experience as we journey through our studies. The Wart, (Arthur) speaks to beings like stones and badgers, and becomes many creatures. He visits a Goddess. From all these beings he learns, and from the gentle, somewhat befuddled wisdom of Merlin.
I love these parts of the story. I love that Wart has Merlin to care for and guide him so carefully. I compare Merlin to Dumbledore and find Dumbledore wanting.
The ways Wart learns from experience and stories are those of the Druids, and in Celtic mythology, Merlin himself was a Druid. How I would love to sit at his feet in his jumbled room and learn as the Wart did.
T.H. White has such love for the animals of the story and lets them share their wisdom to us as well as to Wart. It's not done in a stern way, it is charming and fun and yet it is wise and beautiful too.
Being a bit of a mad medievalist, I also love how White has portrayed the life in and around the castle where Wart grew up. The seasons are felt and celebrated. People matter to each other. Animals and growing things and humans are all mixed up together, as we should be. Still, it is not all sweetness and light. There is death and cruelty and callousness as well. It was not necessarily a time of kindness, but Wart finds himself in rather a lovely backwater where he can learn and grow in relative peace. I'm sure this, too, helped shape the King he would become. He sought to create that same balance and peace in his whole kingdom, though he ultimately failed.
Some scenes from the book stick in my mind always:
The moment where the great Boar stands steaming in the clearing during the boar hunt.
The quiet emotion and courage of the hardened King's Huntsman at having to end the life of his injured hound.
The joust between Sir Grummore and King Pellinore, a scene that is both funny and awe-inspiring.
The conversation in the tower about the language of birds.
Wart's journey into the deeps of Forest Sauvage, and seeing the first of Robin Hood's men, sitting so still and brown against a great tree, with his dog at his knee.
The night Wart spends with the castle's raptors as a hawk.
So many scenes once I start thinking about it!
I'm not sure when I first read this book, but it has surely shaped me as much as it did Arthur.