Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Review: The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White

The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White (Collins)

One of the 1939 Retro Hugo nominees for Best Novel. I listened to this one on Audible, too.

Spoilery thoughts behind the link:

A tale of some of the childhood adventures of the boy who will eventually be King Arthur, up to the point where he draws the sword out of the stone and is crowned.

You know... I could swear I had to read The Once and Future King in high school English class. I believe I had just read The Mists of Avalon when we read these Arthurian novels in high school, and my vague recollection is that I found The Once and Future King very boring. Granted, my mind is like a sieve, and I can re-read a book after ten years and remember almost nothing from it, but I was very surprised by this book. Disclaimer: I was in the bad habit of not reading my English class books if I could possible help it, and usually got through just fine by listening to the class discussions, so it's entirely possible I never actually read these books.

My read-through, or rather listen-through, of this book this year... I was very surprised. It's so extremely silly. I wasn't expecting silly. Particularly not this level of silly. It felt very much like a children's book, and I wasn't expecting that at all. I think this impression wasn't helped by the narration on the audiobook version. The narrator was very animated and was reading the story as one might narrate a Disney film, or read a storybook to small children.

It was a fun and silly little tale, with lots of anachronisms which mostly seemed to serve the purpose of helping the children reading the tale relate to Arthur's world and what was going on in it. Sometimes, though, the anachronisms really jarred me out of the story. An example is the reference to the plumbing they had in the castle, and in the town. Um? Also, Robin Hood? Again, I know, it brings more familiar stories into the tale to help children relate. But....

I know a lot of people really love this story, and I have the impression that this trilogy is many people's go-to tale of the Arthurian legends. I know I'm being repetitive, but I just can't get over how silly it is. And how little feel it actually gave me for the time, as it's so full of anachronisms. I know how weird this is for me to say. I am usually a huge fan of silly in my sci-fi and fantasy. My problem may be just that it's so different from what I was expecting. Or maybe I'm just not in the mood for this kind of story right now. I feel that I should have enjoyed this tale more than I did. I really hope I'm not outgrowing my love of silly.

All that said, it is a lovely little story, and if I'd read it many times as a child, it might well have been a favorite of mine too. Even with the things that bothered me about the story, it grew on me the farther into the book I got.

Though I enjoyed it, and beloved as it is, it just doesn't feel like a Hugo winning novel to me.

Up or down ballot (note for myself): MIDDLE.

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