Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book Review: The Candle in the Wind

Wow - a final book that really wraps it all together and makes it all worth it.  We get to see Arthur's reflections on his entire life.  Why he made the round table, what he hoped to accomplish, what he fought for and why.  We see the destruction of his kingdom.  We see his "sins come home to roost" as he says so many times.

We see that man has good desires, but all men are imperfect.  They often don't live up to their own standard, and they don't know how to deal with that.  Even if they can forgive themselves, they are not forgiven by others.
The book ends geniously.  On Arthur's death bed he calls in a young page and asks him not to fight.  The page must remember what Arthur's dream was, why a round table, why chivalry.  The page must stay alive, and write these things down for future generations. 
The page's name is Thomas Malory (who wrote Le Morte d'Arthur in the 1400's)

The last 10 pages of the book are T.H. White's "morals of the story" described beautifully and poetically.  The book was published in 1958 - and many of the themes relate directly to WWII.
Arthur reflects on the crusades, the quests, and the sins he committed that led to the downfall of his kingdom.

He recognizes that many things he designed to be used for good purposes, have come back to be his ruin.
"He had introduced the idea of total war. In his old age this same total warfare has come home to roost as total hatred." - p. 667

Arthur thinks about man - is he inherently good or evil... or neither?

 "had been taught by Merlin to believe that man was perfectible: that he was on the whole more decent than beastly: that good was worth trying: that there was no such thing as original sin" - p. 666
"His Table, his idea of Chilvalry, his Holy Grial, his devotion to Justice... the whole structure depended on the first premise, that man was decent." - p. 666
"Perhaps man was neither good nor bad, was only a machine in an insensate universe." - p. 667

Arthur asks himself - who failed.  Was it the leaders or the people.   He asks the Chicken and the Egg question:
"Was it the wicked leaders who led innocent populations to slaughter, or was it wicked populations who chose leaders after their own hearts?" - p. 668

"If it was so easy to lead one's country in various directions, as if she was a pig on a string, why had he failed to lead her into chivalry, into justice and into peace?  He had been trying." - p. 668

He then finds one possible source of evil and war - revenge.  The inabilit to ever forgive or forget.
"Man had gone on, through age after age, avenging wrong with wrong, slaughter with slaughter.  Nobody was the better for it, since both sides always suffered." - p. 668
"It was as if everything would lead to sorrow so long as man refused to forget the past." - p. 668

My favorite quote from the whole book comes in this section:
"Man must be ready to say: Yes, since Cain there has been injustice, but we can only set the misery right if we accept a status quo. Lands have been robbed, men slain, nations humiliated. Let us now start fresh without remembrance, rather than live forward and backward at the same time. We cannot build the future by avenging the past. Let us sit down as brothers, and accept the Peace of God.  Unfortunately men did say this, in each succesive war.  They were alwasys saying that the present one was to be the last, and afterwards there was to be a heaven." - p. 669

Arthur then has another thought - maybe the problem is the idea of possession.
"Perhaps wars were fought because people said my kingdom, my wife, my lover, my possessions." - p. 669
 "Perhaps wars only happened between those who had and those who had not." - p. 670
 "Individuals were always crying out 'Mine, mine,' where the church was instructed to say 'ours'." - p. 670

He then realizes the ridiculousness of war - that it is fought over arbitrary and imaginary lines we have drawn:
"The fantastic thing about war is that it was fought about nothing - literally nothing.  Frontiers were imaginary lines.  There was no visible line between Scotland and England although Flodden and Bannockburn had been fought about it.  It was geography which was the cause - political geography.  It was nothing else." - p. 676

The Book was great.  I plan on reading the originally unpublished Book 5 "The Book of Merlyn" next, and then I may read "Le Morte d'Arthur."

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