The Once and Future King is the classic five-book Arthurian series written by T.H. White.
T.H. White was inspired by Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, and decided to re-imagine the Arthurian legend in a four-part series, using the general plot of Le Morte d’Arthur as the framework (White January 14, 1938). Despite the use of Malory’s general framework, White made several unique contributions to Arthurian literature, several of which have been completely incorporated into the legend:
1. White was the first author to detail the life of young Arthur (for more in-depth discussion on this topic, please see the page for The Sword in the Stone). White’s story forms the basis for the commonly accepted version of that part of the legend.
2. White’s Merlyn was living backwards in time. This was a unique contribution and made the relationship between Merlyn and Arthur more poignant, because Merlyn knew Arthur’s fate. Subsequent authors have used a different tactic to give Merlyn the foresight he has in White’s work, by giving Merlyn the ability to see the future.
3. White’s Lancelot was ugly. This is significant because it adds a depth to the relationship between Lancelot and Guinevere.
4. White’s love triangle between Lancelot-Guinevere-Arthur is fully developed and tragic. White was the first author to unabashedly tackle the love triangle, and give Guinevere and Lancelot a romantic and long-lasting relationship. White also weighs all three points of the triangle equally, in that Lancelot has great love and admiration for Arthur. White manages to make all three characters sympathetic.