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Terence Hanbury White was born in 1906 in
Bombay, India, to British parents. He was educated at Cheltenham
College in England and Queen’s College in Cambridge, where he graduated
at the top of his class. White led a solitary life, and other than
his few friends from the academic and literary world, his only companions
were his pets. White was particularly heartbroken when his dog Brownie,
a red setter, died after fourteen years of faithful friendship.
White did make one attempt to get married, but his heart was not
in it and his would-be fiancée eventually broke off their relationship.
Toward the end of his life, White underwent psychological treatment
for homosexuality. White was also an on-again, off-again
alcoholic, and though his drinking never ruined him, it was enough
of a problem that he made repeated, unsuccessful attempts to stop
Early in life, White taught at several English preparatory
schools. His first successful book was an autobiography called England Have
My Bones. He was eventually able to make enough money from
his novels, particularly from the four books that make up The Once
and Future King, to dedicate himself to writing full time.
In his spare time, White was a passionate falconer, pilot, sailor,
goose-hunter, fisherman, and scholar of medieval texts. It was in
this last capacity that he began studying the Arthurian legends,
stories about the legendary King Arthur that date as far back as
the early twelfth century and have become an integral part of British
literature. White’s own interpretation of King Arthur would become
the subject of his best-known novels.
Although The Once and Future King was
White’s best-selling novel, three of the four books that make up
the completed work were first published independently: The
Sword in the Stone in 1938; The
Witch in the Wood, later renamed The Queen of Air
and Darkness, in 1939; and The
Ill-Made Knight in 1940. The fourth
book, The Candle in the Wind, first appeared in 1958,
when it was published in the completed The Once and Future
King. White also wrote a fifth book, The Book of
Merlyn, in which Merlyn and Arthur discuss the issue of
war, using the animals that Arthur had known as a child, but it
was rejected by White’s publisher. That book has since been published
but has never been considered equal to White’s classic novel. In
the years since its initial publication, The Once and Future
King has enjoyed a popularity that spreads far beyond bookstores.
White’s novel is the basis for the classic Lerner and Lowe musical Camelot, which debuted in 1960, and for the
animated Disney film The Sword in the Stone, which
premiered around the time of White’s death. White died in Athens,
Greece, in 1964, at the age of fifty-seven.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Once and Future King!