July: King Arthur, Merlin, and ‘The Sword in the Stone’

Does anyone nostalgically remember Disney’s The Sword in the Stone as a beloved Disney classic? I’m sure I saw it more than once, but I basically recall a gross lady wizard, a fish, Merlin’s blue wardrobe choices, and Arthur clumsily pulling out the sword.

Once and Future KingAnd, you know what? The actual story semi-reflects these memories. Though, with a lot more cockney’d-accented animals and a bit of boy angst.

For July’s reading challenge, my husband had the chance to choose my book. He’d been prodding me to read T.H. White’s The Once and Future King for years. Thankfully, King Arthur’s lore is divided into four books, so I got away with only reading The Sword in the Stone. Then again, if my to-be-read book list wasn’t so long and full of amazing titles, I’d be tempted to continue reading this novel.

I’m fascinated by the book’s cover alone:

“The world’s greatest fantasy classic!” and The whole world knows and loves this book … It is the book of all things lost and wonderful and sad. It is the fantasy masterpiece by which all others are judged.”

OK, I don’t care who you are. If you claim “The whole world knows and loves this book,” you have serious backbone, my friend.

And so, here’s my take on this infamous story.

As the story begins, Arthur is simply known as “The Wart,” and he’s the adopted son of a noble lord, Sir Ector. The Wart is very aware of the fact he’s second-class to Sir Ector’s biological son, Kay, who is kind of a punk.

The two boys grow together and train together until the day The Wart stumbles across Merlin the Magician. Merlin declares he’s to be The Wart’s tutor, and this changes the boy’s life forever, mostly as his new educator literally changes him into everything from a goose to a badger. The ant transformation was the most disturbing to me, actually. Some ant species are, apparently, quite the bloodthirsty warmongers.

The Sword in the Stone
I couldn’t resist this one.

Side Note: Merlin is the most interesting character in the book. He’s actually aging backwards. Try to wrap your mind around that one. He knows everything that will happen to The Wart, but nothing before he meets him. Merlin never spoils The Wart’s future by telling him what will happen (and what Merlin has already lived). As the Wart ages, Merlin becomes younger. Such a fascinating concept.

Merlin also appears to be at constant war with his magic. He asks for a pencil and paper and in return gets the following: an unsharpened pencil and the Morning Post (remember, it’s supposed to be the 1200s), a fountain pen with no ink and six reams of brown paper, and a carbon pencil and some cigarette papers. Apparently, Merlin’s magic is quite the sass.

Another time, he’s trying to get his wizard’s hat from the unseen, magical force. At first, a “curious black cylindrical hat appeared on his head. It was a topper.” So, he gets a top hat. In a medieval castle. Merlin exclaims in disgust and hands the hat “back to the air.” The magic then puts a sailor hat on his head.

“‘This is an anachronism,’ he said severely. ‘That is what it is, a beastly anachronism.'”

I love when books are ridiculously self-aware. 


As The Wart’s perception of the world grows under Merlin’s tutelage, Kay continues his training to become a knight. Due to his apparent heritage, The Wart’s best hope is to be Kay’s squire, which depresses him thoroughly. This is where the sword in the stone appears. At the very end of the book, Uthur Pendragon, who has been ruling as king, dies, leaving no heirs. A sword in an anvil atop a stone appears at a London church with the message telling anyone who removes the sword is to be king.

King Arthur
I’m assuming this is how the next book begins.

And, unless you’ve lived under a rock and/or despise classic Disney cartoons or fantasy novels, you’ll know that The Wart/Arthur pulls the sword out of the stone, which, in this book, is actually an anvil. Who knew?

Sorry to leave you hanging in respect to the whole Knights of the Round Table and Lancelot/Guenievere-love-triangle situation. I’ve got a stack of more modern books siren-calling me, and I’m thrilled to answer their call.

Plus, I think some of you will like next month’s reading challenge pick. Stay tuned!

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