The book in one sentence: The orphan boy Wart, taught six years by the wizard Merlyn, is destined to be King!
My take: Can you believe I have never read The Sword in the Stone until now? I remember watching the animated 1963 version of it as a child and finding it deathly boring). But for some weird reason I know the story, well the gist of it, as I'm sure most of you have too. How Arthur became king. About the Knights of the Round Table. And Arthur's queen Guinevere. And you kid me if you have never heard of Merlyn the magician ...
I can't believe I waited this long! I have fallen in love with this book, and it is among The Lord of The Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia - classics which need to be re-read! It came out in 1938 and is part of a tetralogy (yes, 5 books) called The Once and Future King. Now I am on the look-out for the other books!
The story is an amazing combination of legend, history, and fantasy. It is philosophical in places. It is witty. It is beautifully written. And oh, and it is extremely funny too!
"Who so Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of England."
But Merlyn is a magician. He becomes Wart's tutor. And what ensues is six years of some very odd adventures, which are actually his lessons, aimed at preparing Wart for his future life ... as king!
(As a sidenote, I love the description of Merlyn and am pretty sure that J.K Rowling borrowed some elements of Merlyn to incorporate into Albus Dumbledore! And Merlyn lives backwards in time, again, can someone else see how time travel - read: Hermione's time tunrer - played a huge role in Harry Potter? I digress!)
Merlyn turns Wart into a fish, a hawk, an ant, a wild goose, a snake, and a badger. I love the descriptions of how Wart acts as a different animal, lending to some very interesting insights. Truly, a change in perspective makes all the difference! He also meets the outlaw Robin Wood (yes, Robin Hood and - of course - Lady Marian and the entire crew), witnesses a strange duel between his mentor Merlyn and Madam Mim (an evil magician), and even fights some strange battles alongside some very strange creatures, and more! In all this, Wart comes away with the wisdom of different people, animals and things.
While the story is fantastical, it lends itself to some memorable philosophical quotes. For example, in a conversation with some trees, I found this quite hilarious but oh-so-witty:
"How your humans do spin about," remarked a crafty elm coldly. "What a speed they live at. It is rather good sport trying to spot them, and to drop and an old bough on their heads if you get them directly underneath. Bu of course you have to stand very still and give no signs of dropping it til the actual moment. The cream of the joke is that they make the coffins out of me afterwards."(p. 226-227)There is something for everyone in the book. My personal favourites include:
- The big transformation duel, or Wizard's Duel, between Merlyn and Madam Mim, which is like imagining a larger-than-life "Rock Paper Scissors." Find out what Merlyn's final transformation was that defeated Madam Mim!
- Another chapter that had me in stitches was the joust between two rather washed-out knights, King Pellinore and Sir Grummore, who went to extreme lengths to abide by the rules of sportsmanlike combat.
- Two sub-stories I found utterly charming were first, of King Pellinore and Questing Beast (which makes and appearance rather early in the book), and the unlikely friendship of two misfits Dog Boy and Wat.
- Archimedes, Merlyn's owl, who has wry humour but has a soft spot for Wart. I really wouldn't mind flying lessons from Archimedes!
- And lastly, the long-lasting rivalry between Wart and his foster brother Kay. Throughout the book, Kay figures as the bad boy but in the end Kay redeems himself.