The Queen of Air and Darkness/Witch in the Wood

Cover of the First U.S. Edition (1939)

The Witch and the Wood is the second book in the Arthurian series by T.H. White.  It was released by Putnam (New York) in 1939 and by Collins (London) in 1940 (World Cat).

The Witch in the Wood splits its focus between the newly coronated King Arthur, with Merlyn as his advisor, and Queen Morgause of Orkney and her sons, the Orkney Brothers (Gawain, Agravaine, Garehis, Gareth, and eventually, Mordred).

King Arthur consolidates his power by defeating a revolt of lesser lords, which had been led by Queen Morgause’s husband, King Lot.  He also continues his training with Merlyn on how to be a just king and when is the use of force justified.

In Orkney, Morgause rules the kingdom while her husband is away at war, and practices sorcery.  The Orkney brothers grow up hating Arthur because he is the son of Morgause’s sister, Igraine, and Uther, who killed Igraine’s first husband, Gorlois.

Near the conclusion of the book, Morgause travels to Camelot and uses a spell to seduce Arthur.  He has no idea who she is or that they are related, but Morgause is well-aware of that she is his aunt.  She gives birth to Mordred as a result of the affair.

White struggled to write The Witch in the Wood.  In his correspondence with friends, White admitted that his difficulties in writing the novel stemmed from the bitterness he harbored toward his mother, with whom he had had a difficult relationship.  Too much anger toward his mother was put into the character of Morgause.

Although White wrote numerous drafts, The Witch in the Wood was not critically acclaimed like its predecessor, The Sword in the Stone.

The Witch in the Wood was heavily revised for inclusion into The Once and Future King, and was renamed The Queen of Air and Darkness.  Nearly 100 pages were trimmed from the version released in 1939/1940.  Regardless, many still consider the second book to be the weakest in The Once and Future King.

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