Parents' Guide to

The Sword in the Stone

By Matt Berman, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 10+

Brilliant, high-level take on Arthur's childhood.

Book T. H. White Fantasy 1939
The Sword in the Stone Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this book.

Community Reviews

age 11+

Based on 4 parent reviews

age 11+

Difficult for children, childish for adults

I am writing this review at some remove from the reading experience, thus it will lack the detail I typically try to include. This was a mostly wholesome tale that includes some history (medieval England), a lot of fantasy (magic and mythological creatures) some difficult-to-understand weirdness (the anachronisms with Merlin's moving backward through time) and a lot of tutorials (delivered in dry Middle English). There were just a few expletives and one bawdy song (which took me some time to explain to my 9 year old daughter). Generally, the "good" characters are clearly and genuinely good, the compromised characters have clear strengths and weaknesses, and the "bad" characters are clearly evil. There is little doubt as to whom one is supposed to (and can happily) cheer for, feel empathy for, or jeer against. It is also a suspenseful book where Arthur and others around him face the real prospect of death. There are hints of gruesome endings that, in themselves, might be a little shocking, but are no worse than the old Grimm's fairy tales. This is a good book to challenge an adolescent reader and while some of the scenes might be a little morbid, this is a book that a preteen could read by themselves without need of parental guidance or post-reading discussion.
age 12+

A favorite childhood book

The Sword in the Stone is the first book of T.H. White's "The Once and Future King." Book 1 tells of Arthur's childhood and his ascension to the throne. It is a great tale that includes magic and adventure as well as day-to-day life. It stimulates one's imagination with unusual events such as Merlin turning Arthur into a hawk as an educational experience. The book includes a lot of humor, deriving largely from Merlin, who lives backwards in time and thus can foresee the future but also has difficulty remembering whether something has happened or not yet. I probably read these at age 13 or 14. The succeeding books tell of Arthur's reign, the tragedy of the love affair between Arthur's closest friend Lancelot and Arthur's wife Guinevere, the scheming Mordred, the quest for the holy Grail, and various tragic characters. I found it very moving then and now, in recalling it. The fifth book, the Book of Merlin, was actually suppressed or banned in wartime England. When I read these books, the Once and Future King came in a single volume comprising the first four books, and the Book of Merlin was separate, but that may have changed in the interim. I highly recommend this book as thought-provoking and entertaining. (As a point of reference, I also enjoyed all of the Sherlock Holmes books and the P.G. Wodehouse books (mostly those that featured Jeeves).) There are no gratuitous acts of violence or sex in this book. Whatever happens serves to advance the tale. No swearing, no consumerism. Sex may be alluded to but not in any vulgar or explicit way. I believe this was merely part of an enchantment.

This title has:

Educational value
Great messages
Great role models

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (4):
Kids say (7):

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.

Book Details

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