Frequently Asked Questions

The following list is composed of questions received via e-mail and is added to on a regular basis:
If you have either questions or answers for this page, please e-mail. Thanks.


Q: Where can I find summaries for T.H. White books?
A:
"Cliffs Notes" are now available for The Once and Future King. Also, the books T. H. White by John Crane (Twayne, 1974) and T. H. White and the Matter of Britain by Martin Kellman (Edwin Mellen Press, 1988) are excellent sources for notes on all of White's books. Ask your librarian to assist you in locating them.

Good News! There is now an online source for notes on T. H. White's The Once and Future King. It is called SPARKNOTES. (Thanks to Joshua & Orit Yoav)


Q: Is the text for The Once and Future King, or any other of White's book available on CD-ROM or in any other electronic form?
A:
No. Although most of the books available on the Internet are public domain (the copyrights have expired), T. H. White's books are still protected by copyright laws which prohibit reproduction in any form without permission from the copyright owners. This includes all material in this Web project. Please e-mail for details.


Q: Can I use material from this Web site for school or professional work?
A:
Yes. Material in this Web site may be used for educational and research purposes (with the exception of verbatim text from poetry or books) as long as credit is given to the original sources. Please do not plagiarize. See the current MLA guidelines for the proper citation of Internet sources.


Q: Is there more than one version of The Sword in the Stone?
A:
Yes. The text of the British edition differs somewhat from the American printing. Also, White further revised the text when it was published as part of The Once and Future King.


Q: What is the time setting for The Once and Future King?
A:
Click here.


Q: What is the thesis or theme of The Once and Future King?
A:
War is the most predominant theme throughout the five novels. Education plays an important part in The Sword in the Stone. Click here to find out what others have to say.


Q: In The Sword in the Stone, Merlyn's cottage is described as having "a real corkindrill hanging from the rafters, very lifelike and horrible with glass eyes and scaly tail stretched out behind it". What is a corkindrill?
A:
"In Charles Dickens's David Copperfield, the child David is reading to his nurse, Peggotty, from a book on crocodiles.  Peggotty says to him "'Now let me hear some more about the Crorkindills,' said Peggotty, who was not quite right in the name yet, 'for I an't heard half enough.'" [Penguin English Library edition, ed. Trevor Blount, 1966, p.66].  I have always taken White's 'corkindrill' as an allusion to Peggotty's malapropism, reflecting the affectionate, protective, tutelary relationship between David/the Wart and Peggotty/Merlyn.  There are other playful similarities - Peggotty is often overcome with emotion, like Merlyn's volatile temperament, although in Peggotty's case the results are rather different: 'being very plump, whenever she made any little exertion after she was dressed, some of the buttons on the back of her gown flew off,' [p. 66]; and rather like Merlyn's capture by Nimue, Peggotty is taken by Barkis as his wife, so that he can get her excellent cooking."

Dr ZoŽ-Jane Playdon
Regional Education Advisor
University of London

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'This creature is not listed in T. H. White's The Book of Beasts under this particular spelling. However, the word appears to refer to a medieval name for "crocodile", and as the text suggests, crocodiles do have "scaly tails".'
Word evolution: calcatrix - cockatrice - corcodrile - crocodile

Jason Moulder

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"It appears that "corkindrill" is a variant spelling of "crocodile". Although not explicitly spelled that way in the OED, there are several spellings very much like it. The description in "The Sword in the Stone" could very likely be a crocodile.

I posed this question to an internet group of reference librarians known as STUMPERS-L and here are some snips from their replies:"

'I can't give you a citation for that particular spelling, but it sounds a lot like the wonderful confusion made of crocodile and ichneumon in Europe during the Middle Ages. Ichneumon (the Nile mongoose revered by the Egyptians because they believed it ate crocodile eggs) was translated as "calcatrix" in Latin. Both the words and the animals were so exotic in Europe that a truly bizarre bestiary grew up around them, occasionally fusing the two into a single animal with a single name. The "r" in crocodile wandered all around the word [ed: note that he says "WORD" not "worLd"], while calcatrix eventually became cockatrice. If you look up cockatrice in the OED, there is a long and fascinating history of the word and what it was thought to represent over the years.'

'"Corkindrill" seems a plausible alternative spelling for crocodile, since corcodrile was one such version already. And the creature described by White certainly resembles the composite crocodile/calcatrix beast to which the OED refers.'

John Dyson
Spanish and Portuguese
Indiana University

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'Check the OED under "crocodile". I think that "corkindrill" might be a variant or early spelling. And the description sounds right.'

Lesley Knieriem
Reference/YA Librarian
South Huntington Public Library

above was submitted by:
Bruce Miller

Date: Sat, 16 Aug 1997 04:32:40 PDT


Q: Does the sword that Arthur pulled out of the stone have a name?
A:
I don't think a name is mentioned in The Sword in the Stone, but Excalibur is mentioned in The Queen of Air and Darkness as being Arthur's sword, and White himself refers to the sword in the stone as "Excalibur" in his journal America At Last. White describes his visit to Merlyn's Magic Shop in Disneyland, California thus:

"Incidentally, Excalibur was there in a corner, stuck sideways through a stone. If you could pull it out, you were at one time allowed to write your name in a book, but the apparatus is now out of action." (AAL 143)

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"Excalibur" is a contraction of the Latin phrase ex calce liberatus--"freed from out the stone".

Kevin Orlin Johnson, Ph.D.
www.pangaeus.com

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"Arthur's sword has a very long history as I recall, and the wonderful observation about the Latin translation of the sword's name exposes that there are a pair of disagreeing traditions. One is the totally logical idea that Arthur drew a magical sword out of a magical stone and used the sword to bludgeon enemies and do all the things a magic sword is good for. But over and against this there's a second, very odd (doubtless French) tradition that says that the sword in the stone wasn't good for anything but proclaiming Arthur king and that as soon as he could he binned it in preference for a sword given to him by a mysterious Lady of the Lake. Arthur clearly understood he was only borrowing the sword, and hence we have the pathos-laden scene at the end of Tennyson's Idylls where Arthur takes a fortunately long time about dying because Sir B-whatsit refuses to throw the sword back in the lake. (American high school students in Brit survey classes are forced to read this drivel, and it makes them all hate Victorian poetry.) Anyway. Clearly I need to do some more fact-checking, and make these observations a little more formal, but this vision of Arthur's death and the origins of the sword certainly wasn't original to Tennyson."

Mark Barrett
22 October 2004 (boolio@gmail.com)


Q: What was T. H. White's religious affiliation? He seems to refer to religion in many of his books.
A:
T. H. White, like many of his fellow writers, was an agnostic. Throughout his novels he usually portrayed the church and its clergy as a greedy, contemptable institution with silly outdated philosophies; the congregation merely ignorant sheep, being taken advantage of. He did at times attend church. He did once think about converting to Catholicism, but soon abandoned the idea.

T. H. White often spoke of himself as a "free thinker", which he intended to mean that he was free from religion's prejudices and rules. Unfortunately for religion, he was justified in his philosophy by history and his own experience with "the church". He felt that education and knowledge should replace ignorant beliefs. He did at times acknowledge the existence of God in his writings, but I don't think he really felt he knew who God was. Part of the problem was that no one could satisfy his earnest questions about religion from a logical standpoint. No one he came in contact with could explain why they believed what they did. It must have been the tradition which puzzled him most. If religion was all man-made, he wanted no part of it.

White was a very sincere man who loved people and nature for the good he found in them, but also felt contempt for the evils he perceived.

His book, The Elephant and the Kangaroo, really gives a good satirical illustration of White's feelings on the subject of religion and sincerity.

--JM, 28 July 1997


England Have My Bones: For the Reader of the Works of T. H. White
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Revised Monday, 18-Apr-2005 09:55:38 CDT.