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The Sword in the Stone
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Before Camelot, before Excalibur and the Round Table, and Lancelot and Guinevere, there was a boy who would one day be the legendary King Arthur.
He grows up a foster child in the castle of Sir Ector. He and his foster brother, Kay, roam the fields and forests of Dark-Age Britain, train to be knights, and are taught by an old magician named Merlin. To educate young Arthur (called Wart), Merlin transforms him into a variety of animals and Wart learns valuable life lessons from each.
Is it any good?
This is one of the most challenging books aimed at children. The original wasn't meant for them, but this edition, gorgeously illustrated by Dennis Nolan is. Even adults may find it heavy going at times, with its old-fashioned, British text, filled with long passages of description, dialects, advanced vocabulary, literary and historical references, and a very dry wit.
But for experienced readers and listeners, it's worth the trouble; surely there can be no version of the Arthurian cycle more beautifully written, warm-hearted, and affectionate, nor one containing a more appealing child. The young Arthur depicted here is boyishly loving and kind, deeply honorable and empathetic, brave and stalwart. In every way the reader can see all the virtues we have come to associate with King Arthur and Camelot, condensed into a very real child who somehow never comes off as unctuous. And that character is perfectly captured in Nolan's luminous portraits of the young Arthur.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about discuss Merlin's teaching methods. What do you think of training a king by having him live with and learn from a variety of animals? Is everything we need to know to achieve wisdom to be found somewhere in the animal kingdom? Can you imagine what it would be like to live with other animals than the ones included here? Also, the book is chock-full of dry humor, advanced and old-fashioned vocabulary, and literary and historical allusions that your child may need help with.