This Day In Literary History
On May 29th, 1906, the legendary English fantasy novelist T.H. White was born. He was born Terence Hanbury White in Bombay, India.
His father, Garrick, was a police superintendent and a drunkard, his mother Constance emotionally cold and distant. They separated when he was fourteen.
White's unhappy childhood would have a lasting effect on his personal life. He was a bisexual who preferred men, but also had relationships with women, several of whom he came close to marrying.
He was ultimately unable to maintain an enduring romantic relationship with anyone, writing in his diary that "It has been my hideous fate to be born with an infinite capacity for love and joy with no hope of using them."
As a student, White first went to Cheltenham College in Gloucestershire, then to Queen's College, Cambridge, where he majored in English and was tutored by L.J. Potts, a scholar and author who would become a lifelong friend.
White referred to him as "the greatest literary influence in my life." While at Queen's College, White wrote his thesis on Le Morte d'Arthur, a 15th century compilation of French and English Arthurian romances by Sir Thomas Malory. Though he never actually read the book, White's thesis on it would play a part in his future writings.
In 1932, White taught at Stowe School, a coed boarding school in Buckinghamshire, for four years. In 1936, he published his first book, a memoir called England In My Bones. With the success of the book, White left Stowe and moved into a workman's cottage.
There, he wrote, went hunting and fishing, and took up falconry. Two years later, White published his first novel, The Sword In The Stone, the first in his famous Once And Future King series of Arthurian fantasy novels.
The Sword In The Stone told the story of a poor young boy named Wart who befriends an old wizard, Merlyn, who becomes his tutor. Merlyn knows that the boy is destined to become the King of England - a destiny Wart fulfills by removing a magical sword embedded in a rock.
The Sword In The Stone received rave reviews and became a Book Of The Month Club selection in 1939. That same year, White, a conscientious objector, moved to Doolistown, Ireland.
There, he rode out the war years writing. He published two more Once And Future King novels, The Queen Of Air And Darkness, and The Ill-Made Knight.
In 1946, White moved to Alderney, one of the Channel Islands (where he lived the rest of his life) and published his next book, Mistress Masham's Repose, a children's fantasy novel.
It told the story of a 10-year-old orphan girl who discovers a group of Lilliputians (the tiny people from Jonathan Swift's classic novel, Gulliver's Travels) living near her home.
The following year, White - an agnostic - wrote another children's book, The Elephant And The Kangaroo, a retelling of the Noah's Ark story set in Ireland.
In the early 1950s, White wrote two nonfiction books, The Age Of Scandal (1950), a collection of essays about 18th century England, and The Goshawk (1952), an account of White's adventures in falconry as he attempted to train a hawk.
In 1958, he completed his fourth Once And Future King novel, The Candle In The Wind. Around this time, White's troubled personal life led him down the same path as his father: he began drinking heavily. He also became a lecturer.
On January 17th, 1964, White's drinking caught up with him. During a lecture tour, he died of heart trouble while aboard a ship near Athens, Greece. He was 57 years old.
Later, in 1977, White's final Once And Future King novel, The Book Of Merlyn, was published posthumously.
T.H. White's fantasy novels were and still are venerable classics of the genre. In 1960, they were the subject of the famous Broadway musical, Camelot. In 1963, Disney released an animated feature film adaptation of The Sword In The Stone.
J.K. Rowling cites the Once And Future King novels as a strong influence on her Harry Potter books, describing Wart as "Harry's spiritual ancestor." Critics have compared Harry's wizard mentor Albus Dumbledore to Merlyn.
Quote Of The Day
"The only cure for sadness is to learn something." - T.H. White
Today's video features a lecture on the legend and appeal of King Arthur. Enjoy!