TH White (was William Mayne update)

minnow at minnow at
Sun Mar 28 08:44:58 EST 2004

Ika elaborated:

>Minnow wrote:
>> I'd read THW as being very involved in Lancelot's unfortunate relationship
>> with the Queen, which started because he was nasty to her and then had to
>> be nicer than he wanted to in order to make up for having been a beast --
>> that bit reads from-the-heart, to me.
>I read (in the biographical essay about THW taking himself off from being
>a teacher to train hawks, to take any temptation to sadism-in-practice out
>of his way) that in his notes for the books THW wrote that Lancelot was a
>sadist, and had to be extra gentle to make up for it - so yes, I think
>that bit was from-the-heart/autobiographical.

Ah.  I haven't read much about THW, only read the books he wrote.  I found
some of *The Queen of Air and Darkness* (and even some of the lighter,
earlier version, *The Witch in the Wood*) very dark indeed: the children's
reaction to the killing of the unicorn also felt just a little close to the
bone, as it were, and made me wonder about how much THW had enjoyed the
nastiness of that and the cat-and-cauldron.  He seemed to know a bit too
much about inflicting pain casually or for pleasure, as it were.

>Ahah! Found the essay. Barry Weller, "Wizards, Warriors and Beast
>Glatisant in Love", in Eve Kofosky Sedgwick et al. (eds) _Novel Gazing:
>Queer Readings In Fiction_ (Duke Uni Press, 1997). "Like all the best
>children's literature," it begins, "T H White's *The Sword in the Stone*
>seems darker, more yearning and perverse, when one rereads it as an
>adult," which is very nice.

I wonder which of the versions.  When I was a child, I found one more
worrying than the other (or perhaps others, it seems to have been
re-written a bit every time it came out in a new edition) and absolutely
hated the section about the ants, for instance, which I'm not sure is in
all of them.  If one had read the lighter one, and then read the other, one
might get a different picture and not realise that was because it was
actually a slightly different book!

Did the war happen between re-writes, as it did for *The Witch in the Wood*
and *The Queen of Air and Darkness*, perhaps?

>Oh, okay, I'm misremembering slightly. This is the quote from the letter:
>"... about seven years ago a living Wart discovered in me a real Merlyn,
>just as if we had written The Sword in the Stone about ourselves. He is
>now a splendid figure nearly six feet high, and we are still devoted to
>each other." THW also said (though it's not clear from the essay whether
>it was in the same letter), that "The love part, the emotional bond, is
>the most agonizing one - and this I have spared him. I never told him I
>loved him or worked on his emotions or made any appeal or forced the
>strain on him" - so it's not really obvious what sort of relationship he
>had with "Zed". The essay writer makes the fairly minimal statement that
>"it's significant that White should narrate the most intense attraction of
>his later years in terms of the tutorial bond between Merlyn and Wart",
>which is a lot less simplistic than the version I originally gave.

I find that both brave and terribly sad.  It makes me think more of THW
even than I had from the very slight information I already had: he becomes,
if you like, someone who put another's long-term wellbeing above his own
immediate desires or needs, and I think that's heroic.

If it's true, of course, but even the wish to behave better than one might
is probably a sign of grace.  What a pity Mayne doesn't seem to have had
similarly high standards for his own behaviour.


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