|Harper Collins Childrens Books|
the guardian Fri 08 August 2008
In my audio library I keep a stock of books for anxious friends about to embark on holiday in cars full of children with low boredom thresholds. This lively retelling of the Arthurian legend allegedly saved the day for a family close to hysteria in a traffic jam en route to Cornwall, home of the legendary kingdom of Camelot. Book one of TH White's junior classic The Once and Future King was published in 1939. With its slapstick humour and wizardry - forget Harry Potter, Merlin is the one - it's probably the most accessible to modern children. White was a pacifist, and in the later books his Knights of the Round Table tend to bang on a bit about good and evil. Here, though, it's the excitement of battles, tournaments and jousts that counts, not the morality. Of course it's dated. Jokes about Sir Hector, young Arthur's guardian, mumbling "hic, haec, hoc" as he gets steadily tipsy will be lost on kids who've never done Latin. But Merlin - long white hair and beard matted with bird droppings that he occasionally wipes off with a worn-out pair of pyjama bottoms (his pet owl, Archimedes, isn't housetrained) - is a timeless comic character. If you like this taster, Naxos does all five books.