Biography of T.H. White

Born in India and educated at Cambridge, British author T.H. (Terence Hanbury) White began his literary career with the autobiographical text England Have My Bones (1936). However, the book that is widely regarded as White's masterpiece, The Once and Future King, deals with a topic that at first appears to have little overt connection to the events of its creator's life. A retelling of the life of King Arthur, The Once and Future King is rich in supernatural elements, medieval cultural trivia, and whimsical comedy. Yet it also serves as a meditation on political life and as an allegorical commentary on the ravages of World War II. White was a conscientious objector to the hostilities and relocated to Ireland in 1939 to avoid service; unwilling to fight himself, he laced his Arthurian narrative with pointed references to the rise of fascism and with an abiding sense of moral and humane purpose.

White published the four books that make up The Once and Future King as separate volumes, with the first and perhaps the best-known, The Sword in the Stone, appearing in 1938. The entire quartet appeared as a single volume in 1958. Along with the warm reception of the novels themselves, film and theater adaptations of White's work allowed the author to live comfortably. White's other output included little in the way of fiction, though he did write books on the use of hunting hawks (particularly goshawks and falcons) and on happenings in society (namely The Age of Scandal in 1950 and The Scandalmonger in 1951).

In 1964, White died in Greece. Over a decade after his death, the previously unpublished final installment of The Once and Future King—The Book of Merlyn (1977)—was issued in print. This volume considers King Arthur on the eve of his final battle, and offers a few last lessons on politics and human nature with the assistance of Arthur's beloved mentor Merlyn.

Study Guides on Works by T.H. White

T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone is a fantasy novel about Wart, a fatherless young boy who is mentored by the wizard Merlyn and has various adventures that prepare him to become king. First published in 1938, it is the first book in White's The...