New Superversive SF Review: “The Ill-Made Knight”, by T.H. White

Here it is. Comment here, there, or whatever you like, it’s all good to me.

I mentioned several months ago how fascinated I was by the Arthurian legends, and also mentioned I have a sort of companion piece being planned on the (far) back burner with the working title of “The Last Blood of Camelot”. So I figured I should read the most prominent Arthurian works out there, and my first thought was the legendary four book cycle “The Once and Future King”, by T.H. White.

I go through some of my thoughts about the first two books of the cycle in the post, but the real review is for the third book, “The Ill-Made Knight”, the story of Sir Lancelot. An excerpt:

Compare Lancelot to modern heroes like Daredevil and Batman (one from the MCU and one from the Nolan movies, to give us baselines). Both of them claim to suffer from this same fear that they will give in to their own worst impulses, but despite this there are several examples of the heroes needlessly torturing criminals; they only remain heroes in comparison to the men they fight and because they refuse to actually kill anybody.

But as we Catholics know, there are sins worse than mere murder. Lancelot is superior to men like Daredevil and Batman because he tries to avoid sadism. Daredevil and Batman flirt with villain status because their only concern is stopping ahead of the line; Lancelot gains hero status because he tries to get as far in front of that line as possible.

The review has already gotten a couple of likes, which is nice, so hey.

And as an aside, I have since finished the final book, “The Candle in the Wind”. It is, of course, brilliant, perhaps not quite as good as “The Ill-Made Knight” but close. Once again, White’s great strength is characterization, but this time it’s Mordred who’s the real achievement. Mordred is most definitely the villain – there’s no question about that – but Mordred is genuinely sympathetic and has valid complaints against Arthur, and Mordred is no coward, an epithet he correctly protests in the book. By the time he’s doing really, undoubtedly, 100% villainous things White makes it a point to tell the reader that Mordred has actually gone insane

The book is undoubtedly moving. The final scenes with Arthur are heart-breaking. This is a tragedy of the best kind, wonderfully written and with complex and sympathetic characters on all sides. The book is a work of genius, and on the whole “The Once and Future King” has a strong claim to the title of second-best fantasy of all time (behind “The Lord of the Rings”, naturally).

Current reading: Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon cycle. Lawhead has been compared, in his more negative reviews, to C.S. Lewis, so I’m sure I’m going to love his re-telling of the legends. I also have Le Morte D’Arthur downloaded for me to go through when I’m in the mood, as well as Alfred Lord Tennyson’s famous Arthurian poem cycle. There are a few other books in the background as well, but I’m on an Arthur kick at the moment.

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3 Responses to New Superversive SF Review: “The Ill-Made Knight”, by T.H. White

  1. OT but I saw you comment on nuking C’thulhu on the castalia house blog and just had to ask if you heard the legends (the whispers,really) about the player who WON Call of C’thulhu? The man, the legend of Old Man Henderson (he puts the “great” in “Great Old One”)

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