Merlin on Learning


If you have not read T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, drop whatever you are reading immediately and get to it.

I rarely hear it mentioned among the classics, but TOAFK is my vote for the most underrated novel of the 20th Century. It is a delight to read. That’s the word — delight. It’s clever, satirical, political, passionate, winsome, lyrical, profound, original, and unforgettable. White takes a light-hearted tone to the rich British legend of King Arthur, but don’t be fooled. This is no mere parody. It somehow manages to be a moving portrayal of human weakness, forgiveness, and love too.

Forget that Disney based its feature cartoon The Sword in the Stone on the first part of the book. I often wonder how many skipped the whole thing under the assumption that it’s a silly children’s story. It’s not. It will make you laugh and it will rend your heart. I’m not kidding. Read it.

For now, I’ll just leave you with this quote from Merlin:

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then-to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you.”


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About the Author

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. CFloyd

    So The Sword in the Stone is the first part but in a book of it’s own? That’s the only thing coming up at either of my local libraries. No TOAFK.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko09-25-2013

      That’s a shame. Sword in the Stone is just the first part of the story. It’s worth reading the whole shebang.

  2. Cathy Simonton
    Cathy Simonton09-25-2013

    I’d agree– both that it’s one of the greats and that the latter parts are not appropriate for younger readers. I read it in my early 20s (I think) and don’t know a clearer illustration of the tragedy of adultery and the way the consequences of a wrong choice can destroy a noble dream.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko09-25-2013

      Exactly. Although the plot involves adultery, White addresses it in a moral way. I teach it in high school for that reason.

  3. Brian Wasko
    Brian Wasko09-21-2013

    The latter parts of the book deal with the tragic love triangle between Arthur, Gwynevere, and Lancelot. It might not be appropriate stuff for your younger ones. Just a warning.

    What a lot of people miss about the Sword in the Stone are the various political allegories White proposes through Merlin’s various transformations of Wart. What’s great about the book is you don’t have to get those to enjoy it. It works on many levels.

    • Heidi Scovel
      Heidi Scovel09-22-2013

      Yes, I had heard that TOAFK was not appropriate for younger audiences, so that is why we started with The Sword in the Stone. It’s rather hard to find Arthurian books or stories that don’t contain tragic affairs and seductions. 😉 My oldest son has read the full Squire’s Tales series by Gerald Morris, which I’ll confess is one of my favorites, so he’s been introduced to many of those stories in a *slightly* more appropriate manner.

  4. Heidi Scovel
    Heidi Scovel09-21-2013

    My boys just read The Sword in the Stone (the first part of the book) this year (they are 9 and 11). My 11 year old raved (but it’s rare that he meets a book he doesn’t like–ha!). I’ve had The Once and Future King on my list for some time. Guess I better get to it. 😉

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