Literary Daybook, June 17

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors

Published June 17, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On June 17, 1875, Helen invites Mary to a dance.
-- "One Thousand White Women" (1998)
by Jim Fergus

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1938, T.H. White's "The Sword in the Stone" was published. This was the first volume in the eventual quartet of books published as "The Once and Future King," White's version of Sir Thomas Malory's version of the King Arthur legends. The book was very popular, but when Lerner and Lowe purchased the last three books of the series to make their version -- "Camelot" (1960) -- White became a rich man. And the success of Camelot motivated Walt Disney to finally make his cartoon version of "The Sword in the Stone," the rights to which he had purchased back in 1939; this came out in 1964, the year before White died.

Though mindful of archetype and Romance, "The Sword in the Stone" takes its own wandering, anachronistic and quirky path through Arthurian legend, often suggesting Monty Python more than Malory or Julie Andrews. When we meet the good Sir Grummore Grummursum, he is relaxing over a glass or two of port after a hard day being noble:

"Sir Ector said, 'Had a good quest today?'
Sir Grummore said, 'Oh, not so bad. Rattlin' good day, in fact. Found a chap called Sir Bruce Saunce Pite choppin' off a maiden's head in Weedon Bushes, ran him to Mixbury Plantation in the Bicester, where he doubled back, and lost him in Wicken Wood. Must have been a good twenty-five miles as he ran.'"

Over more port, Sir Ector and Sir Grummore get on to how the knights-to-be have it too easy these days, need more hawkin' and less Summulae Logicales. Sir Grummore wonders if a spell at Eton might not sharpen the lads up, though the school is a fair hike:

"'Isn't so much the distance,' said Sir Ector, 'but that giant What's-'is-name is in the way. Have to pass through his country, you understand.'
'What is his name?'
'Can't recollect it at the moment, not for the life of me. Fellow that lives by the Burbly Water.'
'Galapas,' said Sir Grummore.
'That's the very chap.'"

A decision is made for a tutor instead. Advertising having been ruled out, a quest in search of one is the only option, and Sir Ector ties a knot in his handkerchief to so remind himself. The rest -- Merlin, et al. -- is legend.

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

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