White originally intended his Arthurian stories to be published as a collection of five books. The fifth book, The Book of Merlyn, was completed in 1941, immediately after the completion of the fourth book, The Candle in the Wind. White’s publishers refused to publish the collection because of a wartime paper shortage. Although the paper shortage was a real problem, many critics think that the publishers did not want to publish The Book of Merlyn because they considered it too philosophical, too political, and too bitter about humankind’s failure to achieve peace. In any event, White insisted on including The Book of Merlyn, and nothing was published until 1958. At that time, the fourth book was included in The Once and Future King, but the Book of Merlyn was omitted. Two important scenes, however-one in which Arthur is turned into an ant, and another in which he is turned into a wild goose-were lifted directly from The Book of Merlyn and inserted into The Sword in the Stone.
The Book of Merlyn was finally published separately in 1977. Although it is generally considered weaker than the rest of The Once and Future King, there can be no doubt that White intended it to be the saga’s conclusion. It begins where The Candle in the Wind ends, the night before Arthur’s last battle. Merlyn comes to give his pupil a few last words and to allow Arthur to take leave of some of his animal friends. This novel brings the story back to its beginnings and gives it a satisfying conclusion. Even if it does not measure up to The Once and Future King, those who enjoy the earlier books may well find it worth reading.
The Once and Future King was adapted as a Broadway musical, Camelot, which opened at the Majestic Theater in New York City on December 3, 1960. The book and lyrics for the musical were written by Alan Jay Lerner; the music was by Frederick Loewe; and the staging was by Moss Hart. This trio had just finished staging the enormous Broadway hit My Fair Lady, a musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (1913). The critics gave Camelot only mixed reviews, complaining that it was not as good as My Fair Lady. But everyone was impressed with the cast, which included Richard Burton as Arthur, Julie Andrews as Guenever, Robert Goulet as Lancelot, and Roddy McDowall as Mordred. The sets and costumes were lavish, and the play was a popular success.
The movie production of Camelot (1967), starring Richard Harris as Arthur and Vanessa Redgrave as Guenever, got much the same critical reception as the play. Critics complained that there was too much talk and too little romance, but it was very popular with the public.
Walt Disney Productions released a full-length cartoon version of The Sword in the Stone, aimed at a young audience, in 1963. Disney made extensive use of the animal transformation scenes.