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Middle Ages without borders: a conversation on medievalism

Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Pierre Savy
Lila Yawn

c) “Beastly anachronism.” Nature and politics in T. H. White’s King Arthur Cycle


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1Upon first describing his upcoming book The Sword in the Stone (1938) to a friend, T. H. White explained: “It is not a satire. Indeed, I am afraid it is rather warm-hearted—mainly about birds and beasts.” But far from restricting the Arthurian legend to an idealized animalistic vision, the author uses the representation of nature to question the political issues of the medieval myth. His rewriting of the legend, including a long development about the king’s education to power, highlights the key role of nature in both the image we keep of the Middle Ages, and the political and social organisation of human beings. White’s environmentalist approach to the legend has been recognized in The Sword in the Stone, the first volume of The Once and Future King pentalogy; there Merlyn himself is well aware that readers may find in his prophetic vision a “beastly anachronism.” However, this topic has yet to be explored for the whole pentalogy, which is less “warm-hearted” and deals more with the tragedy of warfare. Rewriting one of the most famous stories of medieval Europe during the wartime years, White asked: “What can we learn about the abolition of war from animals?”


2White, The Once
White, The Sword

© Publications de l’École française de Rome, 2021

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