Who is T.H. White?
Terence Hanbury “Tim” White (29 May 1906 – 17 January 1964) was an English writer. He is best known for his Arthurian novels, which were published together in 1958 as The Once and Future King. One of his most memorable is the first of the series, The Sword in the Stone, which was published as a stand-alone book in 1938.
White’s novel Earth Stopped (1934) and its sequel Gone to Ground (1935) are science fiction novels about a disaster that devastates the world. Gone to Ground contains several fantasy stories told by the survivors that were later reprinted in The Maharajah and Other Stories.
White wrote to a friend that, in autumn 1937, “I got desperate among my books and picked [Malory] up in lack of anything else. Then I was thrilled and astonished to find that (a) The thing was a perfect tragedy, with a beginning, a middle and an end implicit in the beginning and (b) the characters were real people with recognizable reactions which could be forecast. … Anyway, I somehow started writing a book.”
The novel, which White described as “a preface to Malory”, was titled The Sword in the Stone and published in 1938, telling the story of the boyhood of King Arthur. White was also influenced by Freudian psychology and his own lifelong involvement in natural history. The Sword in the Stone was critically well-received and was a Book of the Month Club selection in 1939.
In February 1939, White moved to Doolistown in County Meath, Ireland, where he lived out the Second World War as a de facto conscientious objector. In Ireland, he wrote most of what became The Once and Future King: The Witch in the Wood (later cut and rewritten as The Queen of Air and Darkness) in 1939, and The Ill-Made Knight in 1940. The version of The Sword in the Stone included in The Once and Future King differs from the earlier version; it is darker, and some critics prefer the earlier version.
Fantasy writer Michael Moorcock enjoyed White’s The Once and Future King, and was especially influenced by the underpinnings of realism in his work. Moorcock eventually engaged in a “wonderful correspondence” with White, and later recalled that White gave him “some very good advice on how to write”.
J. K. Rowling has said that White’s writing strongly influenced the Harry Potter books; several critics have compared Rowling’s character Albus Dumbledore to White’s absent-minded Merlyn, and Rowling herself has described White’s Wart as “Harry’s spiritual ancestor.” Author Neil Gaiman was asked about the similarities between Harry Potter and Gaiman’s character Timothy Hunter, and he stated that he did not think Rowling had based her character on Hunter. “I said to [the reporter] that I thought we were both just stealing from T. H. White: very straightforward.”
Gregory Maguire was influenced by “White’s ability to be intellectually broadminded, to be comic, to be poetic, and to be fantastic” in the writing of his 1995 novel Wicked, and crime fiction writer Ed McBain also cited White as an influence.
White features extensively in Helen Macdonald‘s H is for Hawk, winner of the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction. One of the components of the book is a biographical account of White and also The Goshawk, an account of his own failed attempt to train a hawk.