Terence Hanbury White was a British poet and novelist, best known for his recreations of the Arthurian legends in The Once and Future King. He used Arthur’s tales to shine a light on the folly and destruction of war, reflecting his own pacifist ideals during a tumultuous time in world history.
T.H. White was born in the British colony of India in 1906. He had a very tumultuous early personal life, which led to a heavy drinking problem throughout most of his adult life. He also struggled with being homosexual, because it was considered a disorder that needed to be fixed during his lifetime.
White was an outspoken pacifist, and he brought these ideals into modern context using Merlyn and King Arthur legends in his novel The Once and Future King. The novel is made up of four separate books: the first three were published in the lead-up to World War II, and the last was published in 1958 during the Vietnam War and the Cold War. Through his witty, yet detailed retellings of ancient arts such as falconry, tilting, and hawking, White revealed a carefully crafted picture of what exactly makes a good leader, and the reasons why wars should be fought in the first place. Merlyn teaches Arthur the importance of learning from experience and creating a civil code of law that would be a template for all civilized governments in the years to come. He also shows Arthur that wars should never be fought for spite or for sport; instead, Might should only be used for Right.
The books were wildly popular upon their releases, and in 1958, with the publication of the fourth book The Candle in the Wind, the three novels were combined into one large volume. While White died of health problems while aboard a ship in Greece in 1964, a fifth book entitled The Book of Merlyn was released posthumously in 1977. It details the final battle between Arthur and his brother-son Mordred, and the fall of the king who set the world aright with his groundbreaking civil laws and code of chivalry. By bringing the legend of Arthur back to life during the most tumultuous time the world has ever seen, White reminded people that good will always eventually triumph over evil, and that good leaders are made, not born.
“The blessing of forgetfulness: that was the first essential. If everything one did, or which one’s fathers had done, was an endless sequence of Doings doomed to break forth bloodily, then the past must be obliterated and a new start made… Let us now start fresh without remembrance, rather than live forward and backward at the same time. We cannot build the future by avenging the past.”
“Education is experience, and the essence of experience is self-reliance.”
“Might does not make right! Right makes right!”