Very long version of the King Arthur tale, made up of four books that were originally published separately and then revised and put into this volume.
The first book, The Sword in the Stone, was the most enjoyable as it had humorous moments and a fun take on Merlin who knows the future because he's traveling backward through time.
Merlin gets my favorite quote from the book:
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. “
White makes you aware throughout the book that he's telling a story and frequently refers to Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, making the reader aware of how the story was told there and the differences. There are many anachronisms in The Once and Future King.
The primary problem Arthur tackles throughout the book is the idea that Might is Right, or more importantly, how Arthur can get his nights to use their might–fighting skills and bravery–to help others and do good things rather than impose their will on people.
The Ill Made Knight was my least favorite. This part was focused on Lancelot, who is portrayed as a wet blanket. He's so concerned with being virtuous and good that he causes his own problems. (Virtuous in his eyes centering on his virginity.) Makes a good story but somehow it's not for me. This is also the part of the King Arthur story I'm most familiar with, the Camelot musical and love triangle and all of that.
I do appreciate how none of the heroes are portrayed as perfect, they all have their complexities and issues. As far as the villains, well, Mordred is interesting but his mother, Morgause, never gets any depth or sympathy. I never knew that Morgause was different from Morgan le Fay; this is the first time I've ever seen it told that way.
As someone who was never a big King Arthur fan, I can't say if this is a must-read classic for Fantasy fans, or a dusty version of a story that could use a fresh take?