The Sword in the Stone

by T. H. White, published 1938

“The Wart did not know what Merlyn was talking about but he liked him to talk. He did not like the grown-ups who talk to him like a baby, but the ones who just went on talking in their usual way, leaving him to leap along in their wake, jumping at meanings, guessing, clutching at known words, and chuckling at complicated jokes as they suddenly dawned.”

Sword in the Stone Children's BookThe quote above seems to capture precisely the way T.H. White writes. As I read this book, I kept thinking about children and their ability to follow it. But if you have someone who like Wart does not want to be talked down to, they will love this very literate children’s book. In fact, as I read the book, I realized it met all the criteria of being great literature, rather than just a children’s book.

I was surprised reading through the book to come across many complicated passages that I don’t recall seeing before. Then I found out that when T. H. White created The Once and Future King, only a scaled down version of this book was included. I loved the Once and Future King, and yet, I think this fuller book has much more value for children who really want an epic tale. It jumps all over the place, with not much rhyme or reason, but rather an adventure in every chapter, and most of it quite fantastical.

The characters of Merlyn and Wart are beloved, and I don’t know how much is influenced by all the later Disney and Camelot influence. Nevertheless, this book stands on its own as one filled with great lessons in compassion and the interconnectedness of the entire universe, from stones and trees, to birds and fishes. A great classic children’s book. Children who read it will need either a good vocabulary, a nearby adult, or the willingness to skim what it unfamiliar.
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