This is the first part of a four part review of the four elements  of T H White's Once and Future King.

I reread this book once every couple of years and love it more every time.  It's a composite of four books that make up an Arthurian Cycle.  The first book is probably the most famous, being the basis for Disney's Sword in the Stone.  It's the fairly light but at times dramatic early life of Wart, or Arthur, raised by an uncle and tutored by Merlin (along with Kay, his tormentor, nemesis and friend).  It's very much of it's time in a lot of ways, there's a between the wars cosiness to the characters and a longing for a Utopia that seems destined never to be.  With it's talking owl, dishevelled wizard and skinny hero with a great destiny it's very much a boys own adventure story at heart with only occasional pronouncements from Merlin to hint at the heartbreak to come.   Merlin is one of White's great conceits.  He makes the character truly tragic by making him live backwards through time in some bizarre and impossible way which means he is constantly aware of every pitfall awaiting Arthur and the other characters, but is powerless to stop it.