Thursday, 10 July 2014

Throwback Thursday – The Sword in the Stone – Jenny Barden


Today's Throwback Thursday guest is author Jenny Bardon


My early childhood was full of the wonder of books. I learnt to read early, before going to school, and in the kingdom of my bedroom and wild garden, and the forbidden attics of the Victorian house that was my home, I’d play out the stories seeded in my imagination by books from the library. One of those that had a profound effect upon me, read while I was at junior school, was The Sword in the Stone by TH White. You’ll all know this from the Disney film at least. The language is a treasure, and I’ve dipped back into it for this piece and found that there are so many levels to the book that were obscure to me as a child, yet as a child this book was an awakening. It helped me to see the world afresh through the transformation of written words.
The subject is the boy Arthur, of the legend of the Knights of the Round Table, known as ‘Wart’ in the book, as he is raised by his foster-father and trained by Merlin, learning the qualities that are needed to become a good king. The scenes that had the greatest impact upon me were those in which Wart is transmogrified into animal forms, most memorably an ant and a fish. Merlin’s purpose in facilitating this is to teach Wart through experience. So Wart learns about the importance of co-operation as an ant and about the abuse of power as a fish. Of course, as a child, the educational aspect of these episodes didn’t strike me at all. I absorbed their messages subconsciously which has to be the best way; instead, what was revelatory, was the power of reading to transport. I read about Wart walking through his foster father’s castle on a baking hot day and wishing that he could jump into the moat. No sooner thought than done, with the help of Merlin’s wizardry and an airy Neptune. The next moment Wart is a fish in the water and has to learn how to use his body and fins to keep his equilibrium and avoid danger. The description of this transformation is so vivid that, as a child, I was a fish too, totally entranced by the new underwater world around me.

Here’s a snippet to give you a flavour:
‘…The heaven or sky above him was now a perfect circle. The horizon had closed to this. In order to imagine yourself into the Wart’s position, you would have to picture a round horizon, a few inches above your head, instead of the flat horizon which you usually see. Under this horizon of air you would have to imagine another horizon of under water, spherical and practically upside down – for the surface of the water acted partly as a mirror to what was below it… …everything which human beings would consider to be above the water level was fringed with all the colours of the spectrum. For instance, if you had happened to be fishing for the Wart, he would have seen you, at the rim of the tea saucer which was the upper air to him, not as one person waving a fishing rod, but as seven people, whose outlines were red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, all waving the same rod whose colours were as varied. In fact, you would have been a rainbow man to him, a beacon of flashing and radiating colours, which ran into one another and had rays all about. You would have burned upon the water like Cleopatra in the poem…’
I didn’t know anything about Cleopatra’s poem, but I could see how someone might have ‘burned upon the water’. The words took me away, out of my bedroom, to another place, and well-written words have continued to do so since, the words of other writers, and more recently, those of my own stories. This is the magic of good writing – it makes new worlds that for a while become more immediate than reality in the reader’s mind, and which leave the reader enriched once those new worlds are left behind.

Thank you for stopping by Jenny

Jenny Barden is the author of Elizabethan historical fiction. Her latest book, The Lost Duchess, centres on a love story at the heart of the mystery of the Lost Colony of Roanoke.
You can find her at and on twitter @jennywilldoit


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