The Once and Future King | Study Guide

T. H. White

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The Once and Future King | Part 1, Chapters 10–12 : The Sword in the Stone | Summary

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Summary

Part 1, Chapter 10

Following Merlyn's instructions, Wart takes Kay to Hob's barley strip. Wart says according to Merlyn, they will find an adventure if they follow the strip, so they walk along the strip, which leads them into a forest. They come upon a large man wearing a green kilt lying by a tree. The man smiles at them, stands up, and introduces himself as Little John. Wart and Kay had heard about him as a friend of Robin Hood. Little John says his master's real name is Robin Wood.

Little John takes the boys to Robin Wood, who is resting his head on Maid Marian's lap. Robin wants to send Wart and Kay on an adventure, but Marian protests it's too dangerous for children. Robin has the boys take practice shots with their bows and arrows and is satisfied with their skill. Robin then relates a story concerning Morgan le Fay, who some say is the leader of the fairies. Many fairies are named after animals, such as Dog or Cow. Because of this, when a person calls an animal, such as a dog, he or she needs to point at the beast; if not, the fairy might think the person is referring to it and whisk the person away. Recently, as Friar Tuck, Dog Boy, and Wat were talking, Dog Boy called a dog but failed to point at it. As a result, the threesome and the dog disappeared. Morgan le Fay probably has them in her castle. Wart and Kay insist on rescuing them.

Part 1, Chapter 11

Robin Wood explains to Wart and Kay that only children, because of their innocence, can enter Morgan le Fay's fairy castle. Once inside the castle, the lads should each hold an iron dagger. Fairies hate iron because it reminds them of the steel weapons used to defeat their ancestors. In addition Wart and Kay should not eat anything in the castle; if they do, they will stay there forever. Maid Marian leads Kay and Wart into the forest and shows the boys how to move silently in the woods at night. They rendezvous with Robin and his men at an old oak tree. The band sneaks past a griffin and approaches Morgan's castle, which appears to be made out of various types of food. Holding their knives, Kay and Wart enter the castle. They see Morgan le Fay lying on a bed of lard and also spy Friar Tuck, Dog Boy, Wat, and the dog tied to pillars of pork. With knives extended, the lads approach Morgan, who begins to writhe in pain. Suddenly, the edible castle vanishes, leaving the five humans and the dog in a forest clearing.

Part 1, Chapter 12

After the castle vanishes, Morgan releases a griffin. Unaware of this, Kay, Wart, Marian, Robin, and his men are in a jolly mood because of the rescue of Morgan's prisoners. Suddenly the griffin attacks them, leaps at Wart, and lands on him. By this time the creature is dead because Kay has shot him in the eye. Wart, though, has broken his collar bone. Robin sets the bone and puts Wart's arm in a sling. Wart asks if he could take Wat with him because Merlyn might be able to "restore him to his wits." Robin agrees and allows Kay to take the griffin's head as a trophy.

Meanwhile, back at Sir Ector's castle, people are upset about the disappearance of Kay, Wart, and Dog Boy. Merlyn assures them the children are all right and predicts the time when they will return. As a result upon their return they are greeted by an expectant crowd, including Sir Ector. Wart says he brought Wat along so he can be healed by Merlyn. The next morning Wart discovers Merlyn has sown pig noses onto Wat and Dog Boy. Dog Boy forgives Wat for biting off his nose and the two become good friends. They remove their fake noses because they have gotten used to having no noses.

Analysis

Through Wart's and Kay's adventure with Robin Wood, White pursues the theme of exploring viewpoints in various ways. First, the author uses the adventure to break stereotypes the boys have gotten from storybooks. Robin's last name is not Hood but rather Wood. Kay expects to find knights in shining armor and dragons on his adventure, but instead he comes across a dirty man cutting wood and a castle made out of food. Robin and his merry men are not even dressed the way Kay and Wart expect. For example Little John wears a kilt instead of hose and a jerkin.

The most dramatic breaking of stereotypes happens with Maid Marian in Chapter 11 and the fight with the griffin in Chapter 12. Instead of being a demure damsel or a mother figure, Marian is shown as a woman of action who shoots arrows and can sneak through a forest at night without making a sound. Wart at first resents being guided by Marian because he expects her to act like a governess, but he soon realizes his mistake. He becomes infatuated with this skilled warrior and thinks, "I will marry a girl like this: a kind of golden vixen." During the fight with the griffin, Wart looks forward to hearing his arrow enter flesh instead of a target, but when he shoots at the griffin, the arrow glances off its scales. Then Wart has difficulty loading an arrow, and the griffin almost kills him. This scenario probably does not match Wart's fantasies of melees.

Wart and Kay realize they can gain an advantage by understanding their enemy. The fairies are descendants of the Oldest Ones of All in the British Isles. As a result fairies cannot stand iron because the people who conquered the Old Ones used steel weapons. So from the fairies' point of view, the more recent inhabitants of the isles, who used a horrible weapon to defeat them, are the enemy. The lads carry iron knives with them into Morgan's castle, causing her so much pain that her spell over the castle dissipates. The story about the fairies also shows that one's viewpoint determines who is an ally or an enemy.

By immersing himself in the world of Robin and Marian, Wart learns a different way of experiencing life. In the forest during the night, Marian shows Wart how to move through the foliage without making a noise, relying on touch and sound. He finds this experience euphoric. The narrator says Wart was "filled with an exaltation of night, and felt that he was bodiless, silent, transported." The sensation bears a close resemblance to Wart's experience of swimming as a fish in the moat. In this case, too, Wart feels like he is flying. Wart often feels freedom when entering into different world views.

At the end of Chapter 12, White explores the theme of perfection versus fallibility through the relationship between Wat and Dog Boy. Both of these characters are deformed and have no noses. Because of this, each of them has become an outcast. While living in a village, Wat was often persecuted by kids throwing stones at him; boys also throw stones at Dog Boy because of his imperfection. Eventually Dog Boy forgives Wat for biting off his nose and admits he shouldn't have thrown stones at him. They accept each other's fallibility, become friends, and soon discard the fake noses given to them by Merlyn. Wat and Dog Boy realize that imperfections are a part of being human. White shows this with many other characters, including Merlyn, Wart, Kay, and King Pellinore. In fact the most imperfect people are those who persecute or fight others who are perceived as imperfect or different. White continues to develop this idea later in the novel.

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