NATURAL HISTORIES: LEARNING FROM ANIMALS IN T.H. WHITE'S ARTHURIAN SEQUENCE

in Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology
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Abstract

This paper examines the changes T.H. White made to The Sword in the Stone between its first publication in 1938 and subsequent appearance as the first part of the Once and Future King in 1958. These changes are related to the immediate historical context of World War II, and also to the wider context of children's literature dealing with the relationship between the child and the ''natural world''. Rather than seeing White's texts as reflecting a post-Enlightenment idealisation, placing both child and nature beyond the bounds of culture and human limitation, the essay argues that even in the first version White's medieval worldview is constructed from a sophisticated and deliberately anachronistic medley of discourses including medieval codes of hunting and chivalry, Renaissance tragedy and Victorian natural history. These combine to create an exclusively male world, which is analysed as part of the ideological construction of a masculine relationship to the environment based on a ''natural'' nstinct to hunt and kill. White's growing pacifism leads to the insertion in the later version of episodes replacing this relationship with models of cooperative animal behaviour, and even introducing a female mentor for the hero.

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