Reading the Classics: Review of T.H. White's "The Candle in the Wind"

"The King was on the threshold. He came in, the quiet old man who had done his best so long. He looked older than his age, which was considerable. His royal eye took in the situation without a flicker. He moved across the cloister to kiss Mordred gently, and smiled upon them all." -- The Candle in the Wind, chapter 2

As the books of "Once and Future King" go on, the fourth and what was almost the last book in the series discusses the last few weeks of King Arthur's reign. This is a heartrending book, and one of T.H. White's most beautiful. In it, he tries to reconcile Arthur to a life of peace, Lancelot to a life of virtue, and Guinevere to a life of tranquility. All three characters have been living with their own private vexations for almost fifty years at this point: Lancelot feeling he has failed his king by the rift of the Round Table, Guinevere feeling that she has failed herself by marrying one man while preferring another, and Arthur feeling he has failed everyone by making laws too late, by attempting to kill Mordred when he was young, by accidentally laying with his half-sister, by not allowing his most intimate friend to be the only woman he has ever loved. His throne is at last challenged and his England, his peaceful and united England, is on the precipice of destruction and Arthur has done. He is tired, and he feels that the only manner in which England will again thrive is if he leaves it to its fate. Before his final battle with his misshapen son, he recants everything he has learned in his life to a young page and resolves to leave this world to give himself and England a most deserved peace.

If there ever was a book to make me cry, it is this one. Thrown over everything is the melancholic and dreadful air that we know what needs to happen, and even worse is that they know it too. Everyone's past sins are at last catching up to them, and thought we don't want characters we love to be tortured, to watch Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere live out their last and read their bittersweet end is one of the most unexceptionable and cathartic experiences I have ever had.

One of the most astonishing books ever written.