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The Once and Future King is a retelling by T. H. White of the story of King Arthur. A critically acclaimed retelling, which has been cited as one of the best versions of the King Arthur mythos.

The composite edition, first published in 1958, is in four parts:

  1. The Sword in the Stone, covering Arthur's childhood, the lessons he was taught by Merlyn (often involving him being transformed into an animal to give him a different perspective on the world), and how he was discovered and crowned King of England.
  2. The Queen of Air and Darkness, covering the early part of Arthur's reign, the founding of the Knights of the Round Table, and introduces Morgause, the mother of Arthur's nemesis Mordred.
  3. The Ill-Made Knight, featuring the story of Sir Lancelot.
  4. The Candle in the Wind, telling of the downfall of Arthur and his kingdom, concluding with a bit appearance by Thomas Malory, still a squire, whom Arthur sends off to remember their story.

The first three parts were published separately first, and revised to a greater or lesser extent for the composite edition. The biggest change was probably to second part, which was substantially altered and given a new title (the original version was The Witch in the Wood).

White also worked on a fifth part, set in the lead-up to Arthur's final battle, in which he was taught more lessons by Merlyn. This was not included in the composite edition, for some reason, but parts of it were incorporated into the composite edition's version of The Sword in the Stone. It was eventually published separately in 1977, after White's death, as The Book of Merlyn.

The Sword in the Stone was loosely adapted into a Disney film of the same name. The musical Camelot is partly based on The Ill-Made Knight and The Candle in the Wind.

Tropes used in The Once and Future King include:


  • Anachronism Stew: Deliberately set in no particular time period, with historical references being often vague and frequently contradictory. In several cases, White justifies it by saying that some things referenced (such as the characters drinking Port or wanting to send their kids to Eton) weren't actually what was being said, but that more modern things were used to give readers a sense of what was being said.
  • Ant War: One of the animal transformations Merlyn performs on Wart is to turn him into an ant, and he finds himself in the middle of an ant war.
  • Apothecary Alligator: Merlyn has one in his cottage.

 There was a real corkindrill hanging from the rafters, very life-like and horrible with glass eyes and scaly tail stretched out behind it. When its master came into the room it winked one eye in salutation, although it was stuffed.

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