sword in the stone 2 - Title: Natural Histories: Learning...

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Title: Natural Histories: Learning from Animals in T. H. White's Arthurian Sequence Author(s): Debbie Sly [(essay date 2000) In the following essay, Sly suggests that White's first book of The Once and Future King,The Sword in the Stone , essentially offers a male worldview of the natural world that comes into conflict with the inherent pacifist ideals of White's Arthurian cycle. ] The Sword in the Stone (1938) offers, according to Adrienne Kertzer, 'a philosophy of life as learning,' 1 --a philosophy that was deeply rooted in its author's own experience. At the end of his life, White gave lectures on 'The Pleasures of Learning,' citing his own powerful need to learn new skills throughout his life as a compensation for an unhappy childhood whose legacy was what he termed 'my sense of inferiority, my sense of danger, my sense of disaster.' 2 However, White creates for his hero, the young Arthur (nicknamed 'the Wart'), a largely happy childhood, in which formal education plays little part, being replaced by adventures in most of which the Wart is transformed by Merlyn into a series of animals. This model of learning would seem to place The Sword in the Stone firmly in the tradition of children's literature identified by Karin Lesnik-Oberstein as the product of the European Enlightenment and in particular of the thought of Locke and Rousseau, in which 'the child's learning should be natural, from the natural (experience)'. 3 However, perhaps in part because, in White's own words, it 'seems impossible to determine whether it is for grown-ups or children', 4 White's text by no means conforms to the ideology that, according to Lesnik-Oberstein, underpins that tradition: The 'child' and 'nature' are most strongly related through their joint construction as the essential, the unconstructed, spontaneous and uncontaminated. Both the 'child' and the 'natural' have been assigned the status of being prior to, above, and beyond man, and therefore man's language, history and culture. 5 The idyllic world of The Sword in the Stone is in no sense prior to 'man's language, history and culture.' The text is a representation of Malory's representation of medieval culture that combines erudition with deliberate anachronism. White wrote: 'I am looking through 1939 at 1489 itself looking backwards '; 6 what he sees through this culturally complex perspective is an almost exclusively masculine society based on the codes of chivalry and hunting. As a result, the text draws openly on a variety of historically specific discursive traditions, especially those which have shaped and been shaped by our species' relation to the natural world: 7 not only those of chivalry and the hunt, but Romanticism, what Lynn L. Merrill has called 'the romance of Victorian natural history,' 8 and Darwinism. My intention in this essay is to examine the effect of these different discourses, and to discuss the reasons behind the changes White made to the Wart's adventures ten years after the very successful publication of
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This note was uploaded on 10/16/2011 for the course ENGLISH 101 taught by Professor Parkin during the Summer '11 term at Wilfred Laurier University .

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sword in the stone 2 - Title: Natural Histories: Learning...

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