Book 525: The Once and Future King

Guest Blogger Jill Allison returns today to write about The Once and Future King by T. H. White. Jill is currently a Freshman and Jefferson Community & Technical College and is working towards a Business Administration degree. She reports that she can be contacted at jallison0021@kctcs.edu and that she is enjoying all aspects of college life. 
 
 
The Once and Future King is a novel by T.H. White and number 525 on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. It is actually a four-part series beginning with The Sword in the Stone and ending with The Candle in the Wind. The novel is based on his ideal society that is completed with the future King Arthur. It begins in Gramarye which is loosely based on Britain or England.
 
Art (also known as Wart) is a ward to Sir Ector. His companion is Sir Ecton’s son Kay. When Sir Ector decides to advertise for a tutor, the boys have time to explore the wooded area surrounding Sir Ector’s castle. Kay leaves the forest after losing his father’s prize hawk, but Art stays to try to coax it down. As night passes and daybreak begins, Art stumbles onto a cottage in the forest. The old gentleman in the cottage offers to tutor young Wart and reveals himself to be the mighty Merlyn. His teachings begin with basic magic tricks such as turning Wart into animals.
 
Wart and Kay continue to grow and as Kay focuses on becoming a knight, Wart is saddened by the fact he will not be one. Merlyn casts a spell to send them to a real battle where they can see what it entails. White spends time discussing how different opinions, such as those between King Pellinore and Sir Gurnmore. White makes reference to a crow early in the novel at which time Kay begins to tell Wart that it is a witch. Merlyn later turns Wart into a hawk to gain acceptance. As Kay and Wart continue their friendship they meet such characters as Little John and Robin Wood. They embark upon a rescue mission and encounter Morgan Le Fay. Morgan Le Fay is a central character who watches Wart from young man status to the great King he becomes.
 
After Wart and Kay return to the castle, they learn that the King, Uther Pendragon, is sending his royal huntsman to hunt in their forest. As the year progresses young Wart continues to be turned into animals such as owls and hawks. These animals exhibit the freedom he desires, and the ability to soar through the air is exhilarating. Several years pass and time is near for Kay to become knighted. Wart is saddened and Merlyn consoles him with statements such as “only fools want to be great.” Merlyn gives Wart a final lecture on education and turns Wart into a badger. Wart meets a hedgehog who tells him that man has become master of the animals.
 
King Uther Pendragon dies without an heir the very day before Kay’s knighting. A mysterious anvil has appeared with a sword struck through it. The pommel has the following written statement “Who so Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of All England.” Kay begs Sir Ector to go to London.  Meanwhile, Wart is saddened to learn that Merlyn is leaving him. Wart has become Kay’s squire and time for his education is to end. When Kay forgets his sword for the tournaments in London, he sends Wart to retrieve it. Wart retrieves the sword in the stone instead. When Kay realizes what Wart has done, he claims he himself pulled it from the anvil. Kay’s deception is soon realized and Wart is claimed the new king. Merlyn appears and informs young Wart that he has always known that he was King Uther’s son and from that point he is to be known as King Arthur Pendragon.
 
While it would be nice to end the story there, White realizes that many other stories are yet to be told. As Wart attempts to reconcile strife in the country he has many obstacles that he must overcome. With Merlyn at his side, he learns that fighting is not resolving the conflicts. Arthur believed that war was not necessary nor was it the right way to resurrect the country. Arthur continues his historical journey and through this he creates the Knights of the Round Table. These Knights were to be examples of true knighthood. His foster brother Kay, even though hot-headed, is one of the first knights chosen by him. Unfortunately while Arthur continues to seek perfection, he is seduced by the Queen Morguese, and she gives birth to a son, Mordred. This unholy union will lead the path to the destruction of Camelot.
 
King Arthur had built a strong fellowship with knights such as Lancelot, Gawain and Galahad. Each knight struggled with Arthur’s chivalrous and righteous code. The knights were sent to travel the world and only strike when Might was Right. Lancelot had an unholy love for his King’s wife; Galahad was conceived by Elaine bewitching Lancelot into believing she was Queen Guinevere, and Gawain is suspected of being the son of Morguese.
 
The final chapters revolve around the young son Mordred and of Agravaine. They are bitter over the fact that Arthur is so blinded by his love of his people. They go to him and tell of his Queen’s deception. King Arthur leaves on a trip to allow Guinevere and Lancelot to be found but secretly desires the knowledge to be kept secret. When he returns to find Lancelot has escaped, he reveals a terrible secret. He knew that the birth of Mordred would be the downfall and like Moses had demanded all male children born that month to be murdered. While Mordred survived so did his ambition. As Lancelot had promised, he rescues Guinevere and they escape only to have Mordred demand that Arthur allow revenge for the murder of Gareth and Garais who had been murdered while guarding Guinevere. Arthur was pleased to see Lancelot rescue Guinevere as he held no anger towards them. The book ends with the reader aware that Mordred and Arthur’s battle had not yet occurred.
 
This series of books highlights a young man’s quest, his loyal friends, betrayal and forgiveness. Those are what made him a legend.
 
Happy Reading!
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