The novel's epigraph serves as an invitation to the reader from T. H. White ("you and I") to enter
a world of magic. "Gramarye" is an archaic word meaning "magic," and "Merlyn's Isle of
Gramarye" refers not to the England of history, but of legend. Although the novel's style is often
humorous and anachronistic, the characters are part of an old narrative and mythological
tradition. The epigraph suggests to the reader that the novel's setting "is not any common earth"
(one bound by the laws of physics as found in "realistic" fiction), but instead a place where
uncommon occurrences and random moments of magic are the norm. Thus, the world of
Sword in the Stone
is one where characters react in believable and understandable ways to
unbelievable and fantastic events. For example, when the Wart is transformed into different
animals, he feels all the emotions a reader would expect a person to feel upon becoming a fish,
hawk, or badger — but the very impossibility of such transformations occurring is never
questioned by any of the characters. Magic is as much of an accepted part of the characters' lives
as gravity is of our own.
The novel begins with a description of the Wart and Kay's schedule of lessons, the sound of
which reinforces its dryness and sterility: "On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays it was Court
Hand and Summulae Logicales, while the rest of the week it was the Organon, Repetition, and
Astrology." White begins the novel with this sentence to hint at the book's most important theme:
the qualities of a good education and the means by which it is acquired. Throughout the novel,
the Wart will learn lessons about humanity, although not from books, astrolabes, or the
"Summulae Logicales." Destined to rule all of England, the Wart must learn about people,
politics, and power before the title of "Once and Future King" can be conferred upon him.
Because the reader knows that the Wart will eventually become King Arthur, White offers an
array of characters and situations that allow the reader to see the different ways the boy acquires
the qualities he needs to act as a loyal and responsible king. In short, much of White's novel is
concerned with leadership and how a naive boy who knows little of the practical, political world
becomes more knowledgeable about it, all without his even realizing that such an education is
Sir Ector's earnest but misguided desire for the boys to become "eddicated" is gently mocked by
the narrator. For example, Sir Ector feels that true education resides in learning "Latin and stuff"
as well as practical techniques for governing a household. However, Sir Ector is not a very good
teacher, since he "shouts commands" at the servants making hay until he is "purple in the face."
He also impedes the assistants' progress in doing so, while "stamping and perspiring" out of
anger. Clearly, he is not destined to be the Wart's teacher, as one may expect a father figure to be.
Sir Ector's past attempt at hiring a tutor resulted in a governess who physically punished the boys