Title: The Sword in the Stone
Release Date: December 25, 1963
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
The Sword in the Stone is an animated adaptation of T.H. White’s first novel based on Arthurian Literature (his work also inspired Camelot a few years earlier). The Disney version distills the rich and detailed novel down to a few scenes in which Merlin becomes the tutor for Wart (young Arthur) and turns him into fish, squirrel, and a sparrow to teach him lessons. The standout scene of the movie is a hilarious wizard’s duel between Merlin and the evil Madam Mim.
As a child, I disliked this movie because it was such a poor adaptation of the novel I loved. As an adult, I am more forgiving and can see the movie’s charm and humor. Still, I think The Sword and the Stone is below Disney standards. The limited animation style betrays the possibilities for the fantastical worlds of Arthurian England. And while Wart’s voice is suitably preteen, it’s odd that he is the only character with an American actor while being voiced interchangeably by three actors.
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Title: The Buried Giant
Narrator: David Horovitch
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2015)
Previously read by the same author: A Pale View of Hills, An Artist of the Floating World, and The Remains of the Day
I went through a phase in the 1990s when I read every Kazuo Ishiguro book up to that point. Since then, I’ve completely failed to read any of his new books as they were released. I decide to make up for that by reading his most recent novel. While his earlier works are set in the 20th century and have first-person narrators reflecting on their interior lives, and the melancholy of everyday life, this novel is quite different. The Buried Giant is set in England at a time after the Saxon invasion when the Britons and Saxons are living side-by-side in an uneasy peace. The novel focuses on an elderly Briton couple, Axl and Beatrice, who have low social status in their community and are suffering from a forgetfulness that’s plaguing the land. They decide to visit a son that they vaguely recall living in another community, and as they set off on their journey, the seemingly historical fiction begins to take on elements of fantasy. King Arthur lived and reigned in recent memory and the meet his aged nephew Sir Gawain as well as a Saxon warrior Wistan, and a boy named Edwin who is feared to have been bitten by an ogre. Others encountered on their journey are a mysterious ferryman, duplicitous monks, and the she-dragon Querig who is responsible for the mist that is causing the forgetfulness. As memories returns, the characters begin to question if they want to remember as forgetting has helped them heal and put aside guilt. It’s a deeply meditative and atmospheric book that works as a fantasy story and a highly symbolic parable.
Recommended books: The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White, Company of Liars by Karen Maitland
Author: T.H. White
Title: The Sword in the Stone
Narrator: Neville Jason
Publication Info: Naxos AudioBooks (2008), originally published in 1938
Summary/Review: For a long holiday road trip with my son, I thought he’d enjoy this introduction to Arthurian mythology. I did it with some hesitation, as The Once and Future King was one of my favorite books as a child and I feared it may not hold up to nostalgia. I’m pleased though that this first installment of the tetralogy is still an enjoyable, modernist spin on the story of King Arthur, filling in the story of Arthur’s childhood. Of course, I always thought the The Sword in the Stone was the best of the four parts. One thing I didn’t know is that White actually made major changes when he incorporated The Sword in the Stone into The Once and Future King, and while I can’t really remember enough to recognize most of the changes I was surprised that Disney didn’t actually make up the duel between Merlyn and Madame Mim. Another thing I didn’t notice is a kid was just how blatant the anachronisms are, with Meryln living backwards in time making them a running gag. Knowing how much White loved hunting, I also noticed that he puts a lot of detail into his descriptions of hunts throughout the book, something I must have glazed over as a child. What remains the same is that the book contains a lot of humor, adventure, animal lore, a cameo by Robin Hood (er, Robin Wood), and surreptitious pacifist social satire. And my son, well he covered his ears a lot during the scary party, but insisted we keep listening to the story and that we move on to The Witch in the Wood next.
Recommended Books: The Dragon Stone: A Tale of King Arthur, Merlin & Cabal by John Conlee, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, and The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
In The Summer Country (2007) is the fourth in a series of light-hearted novels based on Arthurian legend by John Conlee, who was one of my favorite professors and an adviser at the College of William & Mary. The conceit of these novels are that they are told from the perspective of Arthur’s faithful hound Cabal. I’ve enjoyed reading all of these novels which are rooted in Arthurian traditions going back eons, but are lively and fun as well. Cabal as a dog is loyal, proud, and often hungry.
This volume is particularly fanciful as Arthur and Cabal participate in an adventure on the Isles of Avalon. On this adventure they encounter the Wild Herdsman, the Ladies of Avalon, the evil Meligraunce, the eviler Dark Man, and the witch Scatha. This magical land allows Arthur and Cabal to communicate in words for the first time. Cabal also befriends a faery dog and wise-cracking cat.
While a book written for young readers, it’s enjoyable by adults, fans of Arthur, dog fanciers, and anyone who enjoys a good story.
In the Summer Country: A Tale of Arthur, Merlin & Cabal by John Conlee. Pale Horse Books (2006), Edition: 1st, Perfect Paperback, 190 pages