6 August 2010
Book Review Friday!
Another one of my personal favourites: The Once and Future King by T.H. White.
Lifespan: b. 1915 (India), d. 1964 (Greece)
First Published: 1958
First Published by: Collins (London)
Full Name: Terence Hanbury White
“White’s complex and often brilliant retelling of the Arthurian legends was written over a twenty-year period as a sequence of four novels and first published as a single volume in 1958.”
I shall not here digress into the various saccharine Disney versions of this work. You are on your own there.
The Once and Future King was based on Thomas Malory’s ambitious prose romance of the Arthurian court, Le Morte d’Arthur, written in the fifteenth century. White does not update the story, but he is always conscious of the parallels that can be made between the brutality of the dying Middle Ages and the rise of fascism in his lifetime. In the course of the four published novels, Arthur grows from a gangly, nervous youth (“the Wart”) into a vigorous military leader. He is eventually forced to emulate the actions of the Naxi-esque Celtic forces assembled by his nemesis, Mordred, in an attempt to try to preserve the innocence of England. The result id disastrous and, as he rides out to meet his death, Arthur concludes that only without nations can humankind be happy. There are some magnificent set pieces, notably when the Wart, transformed into a perch by Merlin, is nearly eaten by the pike, Mr. P., who warns him that the only reality is that of power.
The Once and Future King is a messy sequence of novels that is not always properly integrated, as the author acknowledged. Still, it is a powerful, disturbing work about the evil that men can do and the desperate struggle for values in a hostile world. “
All quotes in my reviews are from 1001 Books You must read Before you Die. For this particular text I took the quote almost intact as I thought the author said it much better than I could.
This is one of my all time favourite legends, books, dreams, warnings, particulates of my personal philosophy, etc. If you have not read this book, this is truly one that as thinking human I think you must read.
30 July 2010
Book Review Friday!
Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper.
Lifespan: b. 1789 (U.S.) d. 1851
First Published: 1826
First Published by: J. Miller (London)
Full Title: Last of the Mohicans, a Narrative of 1757
This was for me one of those pivotal books we all have in our youth. I remember well being taken away by Cooper to the old west, the thrill of battle (the massacre at Fort William Henry during the French and Indian War), and the possibility of beings so different from me described in the characters of the two Delaware Native Americans, Chingachgook and his son Uncas. The forbidden possibility of a romance between the genteel Cora (who has in the book a black mother; scandalous in my world at that time); and the deep friendship between the scout Hawkeye and the two Indians brought up possibilites I had never entertained.
I do remember being rather disappointed that the two women spent much of the novel being captured, rescued, or escorted to safety. I wanted them to pick up a gun or spear and help out!
I had met Hawkeye earlier in Cooper’s The Pioneers (1823) as frontiersman Natty Bompo. Cooper was “the first internationally renowned American novelist. He creates a template for much American popular fiction, particularly the Western.”
Cooper’s racial politics are conservative; thought the novel raises the possibility oif interracial romance and a child of mixed heritage. He does not follow thorugh as he kills off the two young lovers before they can consummate the relationship.
“Cooper laments the destruction of the wilderness, and of the Native Americans who inhabit it, but all are shown to succumb inevitably to progress, typical of the ideology of the nineteenth-century America.”
If you somehow missed Cooper’s vision of the Old West I highly recommend both Last of the Mohicans and The Pioneers.