I absolutely refuse to label The Sword in the Stone
as children's or young adult lit. Sure, the main character Wart's a child, but c'mon. Disney movie and talking animals aside, this books definitely not for children. The humor's too adult-focused, I think.
For example, in answer to King Pellinore's statement that there have been signs and wonders following the death of King Uther Pendragon, Sir Grummore responds: "God knows what the dear old country is comin' to. It's these bolshevists, no doubt." Sir Grummore then chimes in following the revelation that a sword has been found stuck through an anvil and into a stone: "I don't think that's much of a wonder, ... what I wonder at is that they should allow such things to happen. But you can't tell nowadays, what with all these socialists." Bolshevists and socialists during the time of King Arthur? Not even remotely close. But it's a funny touch by White. I love that White puts the narrator in the modern world, looking back at the events of centuries before. Perhaps the 20th century narrator is letting his political "Red Scare" world paint his telling of the story. Whatever the case, it's funny.
Comic relief comes from so many different places in the story. A hedgehog, Sir Ector, Pellinore, Archimedes the owl, Grummore, Merlyn, the castle nurse, and plenty more. But it's not just the comedy that makes The Sword in the Stone
great. The lessons learned by Wart while shape-shifting into various animals and observing the world coming into being are amazing. My personal favorite among the lessons was the "dream of the stones". I want that education! With such an education, how could Wart not become a wise leader? The scene of Wart in the church courtyard being exhorted by these "ghosts of remembered days" to remove the sword is pretty awesome. Gave me chills.
I haven't even mentioned the artwork by Dennis Nolan. All the illustrations have merit, but the one of the witch Madam Mim is perfect in my book. White succumbed to the unfortunate tendency to demonize witches. (No more Salem Witch Trials please!) Otherwise, the scene with cannibalistic Madame Mim and her unwilling sacrificial beings is to die for.
All this to say T.H. White's good! Read it!