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The Sword in the Stone  
Cover of The Sword in the Stone
1993 edition cover by Dennis Nolan
Author T. H. White
Illustrator Robert Lawson
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series The Once and Future King
Genre(s) Fantasy
Publisher G. P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date January 1, 1939
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 312
Followed by The Queen of Air and Darkness

The Sword in the Stone is a novel by T. H. White, published in 1938, initially a stand-alone work but now the first part of a tetralogy The Once and Future King. Walt Disney Productions adapted the story to an animated film, and the BBC adapted it to radio.


Plot summary

Who so Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of England.

The novel is about a young boy named Wart who befriends a magician named Merlin. As is alluded to early on in the text, though not confirmed until later, Wart is actually the future King Arthur. The title refers to a sword that was magically embedded in a stone so that only the future, true-born king of England would be able to remove it.

The premise is that Arthur's youth, not dealt with in Malory, was a time when he was tutored by Merlin to prepare him for the use of power and royal life. Merlin magically turns Wart into various animals at times. He also has more human adventures, at one point meeting the outlaw Robin Hood, (who is referred to in the novel as Robin Wood). The setting is loosely based on medieval England, and in places it incorporates White's considerable knowledge of medieval culture (as in relation to hunting, falconry and jousting). However it makes no attempt at consistent historical accuracy, and incorporates some obvious anachronisms (aided by the concept that Merlin lives backwards in time rather than forwards, unlike everyone else).

The revisions

The version appearing in 1958 in the tetralogy was substantially revised, partly to incorporate events and themes that White had originally intended to cover in a fifth volume (which was finally published after his death, as The Book of Merlyn). To this end, the revised version includes several new episodes, including a pacifist passage in which Arthur is transformed into a wild goose that flies so high as to not be able to perceive national boundaries. It leaves out some of the episodes that had appeared in the original (notably Merlin's battle with Madam Mim which appeared in the Disney film). Many critics considered that the revised version was actually inferior to the original. Publishers tended to use the original version when it was published independently of the tetralogy; both versions are still in print.

The reasons White made these revisions are open to speculation. The Sword in the Stone, although it includes some serious themes, is to some extent a rather whimsical fantasy of Merry England. Its connection with the classical Arthurian legend was actually rather limited, although what it did take from the Arthurian legend was accurate. It was awkward to treat this as the first part of a more serious treatment of the Arthurian legend. It is also possible that White felt in a darker mood after the Second World War. It has also been said that due to wartime censorship, the publishers did not want to print some of White's more strident Anti-War sentiments (which are very prevalent in "The Book of Merlyn"). White is an example, along with Jerome K. Jerome and Compton Mackenzie, of a serious writer who became best remembered for a comical work.

Film version

The Sword in the Stone, Disneyland Hong Kong

Walt Disney Productions made an animated movie adaptation of The Sword in the Stone, first released on December 25, 1963 by Buena Vista Distribution. Like most Disney films, it is based on the general plot of the original story, but much of the substance of the story is considerably changed.


Title in different languages

Radio version

A BBC radio adaptation in 1982 starred Michael Hordern as Merlyn. Hordern had already starred as another great literary wizard, Tolkien's Gandalf, in the BBC's 1981 radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.

Literary significance & criticism


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