White, T H

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is made up of three earlier novels [see below and see Checklist], each here substantially recast, plus a previously unpublished fourth section, and is effectively readable as a single tale about the making of an adult Hero, or rather of two contrasting versions of the hero: King Arthur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 (1938; rev 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 White's original concluding narrative, The Book of Merlyn (written circa 1941; 1977), whose rejection by his UK publishers during World War Two, because of its pacifist content, delayed for fifteen years the publication of any version of the whole. "The Candle in the Wind", the final section of the 1958 volume, was composed subsequently, at some unknown point, to replace The Book of Merlyn, and applies a hindsight melancholy to the whole. But even in its original configuration, The Once and Future King can be read in terms of its author's anguished response to World War Two, and the tale as a whole (in both versions) 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 two early Gothics – Dead Mr Nixon (1931) with R McNair Scott and 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 (coll of linked stories 1935), in the first volume of which, after some Satire reminiscent of 1930s Evelyn Waugh, 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 all the supernatural tales from Gone to Ground as The Maharajah, and Other Stories (coll 1981), but without acknowledging his action eliminated the author's connective tissue, 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), an sf juvenile, 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]

see also: Children's SF; Sword and Sorcery.

Terence Hanbury White

born Bombay, India: 29 May 1906

died Piraeus, Athens, Greece: 17 January 1964

works (selected)

series

Earth Stopped

The Once and Future King

  • The Sword in the Stone (London: Collins, 1938) [The Once and Future King: hb/]
    • The Sword in the Stone (New York: G P Putnam's Sons, 1939) [rev 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 of the above three plus "The Candle in the Wind": reworked into a single novel: 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]
    • The Once and Future King (London: HarperCollins, 1996) [omni of the above: plus all contents of The Once and Future King above: hb/John Howe]

individual titles

nonfiction

about the author

links

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