Ninety-Nine Novels: The Once and Future King by T.H. White
In 1984, Anthony Burgess published Ninety-Nine Novels, a selection of his favourite novels in English since 1939. The list is typically idiosyncratic, and shows the breadth of Burgess’s interest in fiction. This podcast, by the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, explores the novels on Burgess’s list with the help of writers, critics and other special guests.
This is the final episode of series 2, and our guest Elizabeth Elliott is helping us explore Camelot in The Once and Future King by T.H. White. Published in 1958, The Once and Future King adapts the famous stories of King Arthur and his Round Table. Beginning with the childhood of Arthur in the first book, The Sword in the Stone, White’s version of the familiar stories are complex examinations of leadership, nobility, romance and war. Of White’s novel, Burgess writes: ‘This is not remote and fabulous history: the lesson of the breaking of the Round Table is for our time.’
T.H. White was born in Bombay, India in 1906. Although The Once and Future King is his most famous novel, he was a prolific writer, with 20 other books to his name. In 1951, he published The Goshawk, which details his attempts to train a hawk using the falconry methods of the Middle Ages. He died in 1964 in Greece, during the return journey from a lecture tour of the United States.
Elizabeth Elliott is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Aberdeen. She specialises in medieval and early modern literature and the afterlives of medieval texts in later literature. Her latest article ‘Restorying Arthurian Legend: Space, Place and Time in Once & Future and Legendborn’ was published in the Journal of the International Arthurian Society in 2022. Her book Remembering Boethius: Writing Aristocratic Identity in Later Medieval French and English Literatures is published by Routledge.
Books mentioned in this episode
- The Arthurian Romances by Chrétien de Troyes (c. 1170-90)
- The Prose Lancelot by Anonymous, including the ‘Queste del Saint Graal’ (c. 1210-1235)
- Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Anonymous (c. 1400)
- Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Malory (1485)
- A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (1889)
- The Harry Potter series (1997-2007)
- The Magicians by Lev Grossman (2009)
- H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald (2014)
- Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (2018)
- Once & Future by A.R. Capetta and Cory McCarthy (2019)
- Legendborn by Tracy Deonn (2020)
- Sword, Stone, Table ed. by Swapna Krishna and Jenny Northington (2021)
In series 1 of Ninety-Nine Novels, we learnt about authors including James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, Iris Murdoch, V.S. Naipaul and Alan Sillitoe. These episodes are available from your favourite place to get podcasts.
You can join the conversation and tell us which 100th book you would add to Burgess’s list by using the hashtag #99Novels on Twitter.
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The theme music is Anthony Burgess’s Concerto for Flute, Strings and Piano in D Minor, performed by No Dice Collective.