Easily the most enjoyable book I've ever read, with Watership Down
putting in a strong second-place finish. Certainly the best ever in telling, and spinning anew, the centuries old Arthurian legend. Gone are the old stories relayed in stark and monotonous detail, replaced by characters bursting with vitality.
The story benefits greatly from White's knowledge of medieval culture, Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur
), whose influence is credited directly in The Book of Merlyn
, occasionally affected and quirky dialogue, infrequent intrusions of contemporary fact (the 1950s, both from White and Merlin's perspective), and fascinating observations on human nature. But what makes the book truly sing are the titanic, troubled, and heroic characters, all striving in vain in favor of an ideal that ultimately cannot be supported due to a myriad of tiny failings inherent in the human condition.
The story teems with elements that readers of all ages can appreciate: a bit of history, a bit of love, a bit of learning, a bit of humor, a bit of bitterness, hope, miracles, and an ending that leaves you with an understanding that the ending only takes us back to the beginning, and that perhaps Arthur will have a second and better chance.
The effort required not to enjoy a book of this caliber is certainly as rare and extraordinary as the book itself.