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Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King, T.H. White
I started reading this early January. This would have been finished sooner if not for the first part of the book, which was about Arthur as a boy. It wasn't bad. In fact, I enjoyed how Merlin lived backwards so that the 20th century was alluded to many times. It's just that the writing was too queer for my taste. Some of the characters, especially in this first part, were ridiculous, albeit very kind, what?

But after that, the tone slowly started to get serious. It took me back to when we tackled King Arthur in high school, watching First KnightCamelot, and Merlin (the mini-series with Sam Neill) with classmates. It made several references to Le Morte d'Arthur, the first one I was familiar with but haven't read yet.

Because of recent events, re: the Mamasapano incident, territorial disputes with China, and more and more international threats, it sucked me in. For a fictional(?) story that's at once funny and unfortunate, it presents still very valid points about war and humanity in general. And it would be nice if everyone read this for those arguments alone, if not for anything else. I've quoted some of those discussions in the book below:
"Man is the king of animals." -Wart (young Arthur)
"Perhaps. Or ought one to say tyrant?..." -Badger
"True warfare is what happens between bands of the same species. Out of the hundreds of thousands of species, I can only think of seven which are belligerent. Even Man has a few varieties like the Esquimaux and the Gypsies and the Lapps and certain Nomads in Arabia, who do not do it, because they do not claim boundaries." -Badger
"The destiny of Man is to unite, not to divide. If you keep on dividing you end up as a collection of monkeys throwing nuts at each other out of separate trees." -Merlin
"There is no excuse for war, none whatever, and whatever wrong which your nation might be doing to mine---short of war---my nation would be in the wrong if I started a war so as to redress it. A murderer, for instance, is not allowed to plead that his victim was rich and oppressing him---so why should a nation be allowed to? Wrongs have to be redressed by reason, not by force." -Merlin
"You have become the King of a domain in which the popular agitators hate each other for racial reasons, while the nobility fight each other for fun, and neither the racial maniac nor the overlord stops to consider the lot of the common soldier, who is the one person that gets hurt. Unless you can make the world wag better than it does at present, King, you reign will be an endless series of petty battles, in which the aggressions will either be from spiteful reasons or from sporting ones, and in which the poor man will be the only one who dies." -Merlin
"Morals are difficult things to talk about, but what has happened is that we have invented a moral sense, which is rotting now that we can’t give it employment. And when a moral sense begins to rot it is worse than when you had none. I suppose that all endeavours which are directed to a purely worldly end, as my famous Civilization was, contain within themselves the germs of their own corruption." -Arthur
"War is like a fire, Agnes. One man may start it, but it will spread all over. It is not about any one thing in particular." -Guenever
And for the last pages of the book, White gives in detail the final thoughts of Arthur, which I summarize below:
"Why did men fight?
1Was it the wicked leaders who led innocent populations to slaughter, or was it wicked populations who chose leaders after their own hearts?
2everything was rooted in the past! Actions of any sort in one generation might have incalculable consequences in another...If everything one did, or which one's fathers had done, was an endless sequence of Doings doomed to break forth bloodily, then the past must be obliterated and a new start made...We cannot build the future by avenging the past. Let us sit down as brothers and accept the Peace of God.
3Perhaps the great cause of war was possession...He that would save his life was asked to lose it.
4Perhaps war was due to fear...Perhaps wars happened because nations had no confidence in the Word. They were frightened and so they fought. Nations were like people---they had feelings of inferiority, or of superiority, or of revenge, or of fear.
Suspicion and fear: possessiveness and greed: resentment for ancestral wrong: all these seemed to be part of it. Yet they were not the solution.
He saw the problem before him as plain as a map. The fantastic thing about war was that it was fought about nothing---literally nothing. Frontiers were imaginary lines...The imaginary lines on the earth's surface only needed to be unimagined." -T.H. White
With that, Arthur gets the same conclusion as Guenever.

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