It’s been a while. I remembered White’s exuberant gallimaufry, of course, from the schoolboyish facetiousness of The Sword in the Stone to the genuine horrors of The Queen of Air and Darkness. The impact came fresh again as I followed Arthur and Lancelot to their doom. It’s difficult to encapsulate the quartet, with its 1930s politics, tragic storyline, outbreaks of whimsy and snippets of arcane information, but I found myself marking a few treats.
- Pure observation: the ‘passion for nocturnal secrecy’ felt by the Wart in his night forest
- Phrase-turning: totalitarian regimes summed up for all time in the ant colony slogan, ‘Everything not forbidden is compulsory’
- Creating nightmare: the boiled cat
- Low and unexpected comedy: the gentlemanly Sir Ector restoring his dampened spirits by frightening an old lady
- Vocabulary: ‘atrabilious hawk-masters’ and their bating falcons entangling creances
- Saying things without saying them: the capture of the unicorn
- Imagery: the great gibbet at Montfaucon ‘which could support sixty bodies, depending like drab fuchsias’
My copy is now dim and crumbling, but will survive another reading or two.