The Committee on Might in Man

The Book of Merlyn, by T.H. White – Intended as the final part of The Once and Future King, this tale of King Arthur and his wizardly tutor wasn’t published until 1977, after White’s death. Arthur, now old and faced with Mordred’s rebellion, is taken by Merlyn to pay a visit to a council of animals. These include Archimedes the owl and the philosophical badger who played a role in Arthur’s education. I’ve always liked White’s version of Merlyn, a brilliant old man who is somewhat absent-minded due to his living backwards in time. On the other hand, his ability to remember the future allows him to converse on topics that had not yet occurred in Arthur’s time. He’s also used for meta-humor, pointing out the flaws in some takes on the Arthurian legend and even making fun of White’s own anachronistic take on the story. The king, the wizard, and the committee of animals converse on politics, economics, war, and the nature of humankind. Most of their ideas are rather misanthropic, but Arthur eventually realizes that his love for England makes it necessary for him to confront Mordred. Two episodes from this book, in which Arthur is turned into an ant and a goose, were eventually edited in the first part of Once and Future King, replacing such incidents as the duel with Madame Mim and the encounter with the giant Galapas. While the ant part works fine in both places, the flight with the geese is better suited for the end of Arthur’s life. While a goose, he learns of a society without nations and where mating is for life, in sharp contrast to his war-torn England and wife having a long-standing affair with his best friend. As a review blurb on the back of the copy I read points out, it brings White’s story of Arthur “full circle, ’rounded and bright and done.”

This entry was posted in Animals, Book Reviews, British, Humor, Mythology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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