The Once and Future King

by TH White

Retelling of the Arthur legend, set in a sort of fictional/fantasy High Middle Ages.
Strictly speaking, this isn’t historical fiction because there is absolutely no pretence of historical accuracy - if there was a ‘real King Arthur’ (would candidates please form an orderly queue?), he lived in the unrecorded history of the fifth or sixth century, not in the time of castles and tourneys and knights in shining armour. But that didn’t worry Geoffrey of Monmouth or Thomas Malory, and it didn’t worry TH White either. Rarely has the legend been told with such power. It starts with the sparkling adventures of young Arthur (Wart) being educated by Merlin and a variety of magical animals (my favourite is the badger), and then grows and darkens as Arthur grows into an adult and his father’s sins come to haunt him. This retelling is unusual in that it has little or nothing to do with the Saxons. Arthur’s enemies here are his closest friends and family, and it is their character flaws and his that conspire to destroy his kingdom. Which in my view makes for a much more compelling tale than an ethnic conflict. It is also unusual in that it is richly leavened with humour among all the drama and tragedy - the farce of Sir Grummore and Sir Palomides seducing the Questing Beast while dressed as an exotic pantomime horse and then having to psychoanalyse her out of her crush is worthy of PG Wodehouse or Terry Pratchett.