The Once and Future King | Study Guide

T. H. White

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The Once and Future King | Part 2, Chapters 13–14 : The Queen of Air and Darkness | Summary

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Summary

Part 2, Chapter 13

King Pellinore and his fiancée, Piggy, sail toward England, where they will be married. Out of love for Grummore and Palomides, the Questing Beast continues to lay siege to Morgause's castle where the two knights are staying. Merlyn appears, and the knights ask him to help get rid of the beast. Merlyn tells them to explain to her that they are not really a Questing Beast, but were just costumed as one. The knights do this, but the creature is not convinced. Merlyn disappears despite the pleas of Grummore and Palomides to stay and help them.

King Lot returns to the castle, morose about his defeat by King Arthur. Morgause plans to go to Pellinore's wedding and take her sons with her. She finds a spancel (a tape of human skin), which she can use to cast an evil spell to make a person fall in love with her. In a crude church, her sons pray to be true to their mother, to be worthy of the Cornwall feud, and to never forget their homeland of Lothian.

Part 2, Chapter 14

The Questing Beast shifts her affection from Sir Grummore and Sir Palomides to just the latter. From then on, Palomides, not Pellinore, chases the beast. A cavalcade including Queen Morgause, her sons, Grummore, and Palomides heads to the English town of Carlion to attend a dual wedding: that of Pellinore and Piggy and that of St. Toirdealbhach and Mother Morlan. Delighted to see his old friend Pellinore get married, Arthur provides a lavish wedding ceremony and feast. Meanwhile in North Humberland, Merlyn remembers what he had forgotten to tell Arthur: Arthur's mother's name is Igraine. She had Arthur by Uther Pendragon before he married her. At the time, she was grieving the death of her first husband, the Earl of Cornwall. Because Arthur was born out of wedlock, he was sent away to be raised by Sir Ector. No one knew about this arrangement except for Merlyn and Uther. Igraine also had three daughters by her first husband—Morgan le Fay, Elaine, and Morgause. After the wedding feast, Arthur wakes in his bed and sees Morgause folding up a tape of human skin. Behind her stand her four sons. Feeling amorous toward Morgause because of the tape's magic, Arthur makes love with her, his half-sister. As a result of this union, Morgause bears a son, Mordred. The narrator sums up Part 2 by concluding "innocence is not enough."

Analysis

In Chapter 13 White foreshadows how Morgause and her family will harm Arthur. First Morgause finds a tape of human skin, which she can use to make a person fall in love with her. The person that Morgause wants to ensnare remains unclear. However, Morgause and her children are planning to travel to England to attend a dual wedding hosted by King Arthur. Morgause's husband has just suffered a crushing defeat by Arthur. So Arthur is likely the object of her designs. Second Morgause's sons are shown praying to remain loyal to their mother, their homeland, and their feud with the Galls. Their display of loyalty suggests these boys might conflict with Arthur and his knights in the future. Finally the author describes Morgause's weather vane pointing south toward Arthur's land. This vane depicts a carrion crow with an arrow in its mouth. Earlier, in Part 1, Chapter 6, White used a crow snatching one of Arthur's arrows in mid-flight as a symbol of Arthur's desire to do good being thwarted by evil. The weather vane, therefore, foreshadows ominous events for King Arthur.

In the last chapter of Part 2, White conveys the theme of perfection versus fallibility by contrasting the marriage of Pellinore and Piggy with the sexual union of Morgause and Arthur. Pellinore's courtship and marriage to Piggy in many ways seems ideal: both of them seem to be good people who truly care for their partner. Their fairytale wedding ceremony supports this idea of a perfect union. In contrast White describes how the union between Morgause and Arthur comes about as a result of a series of mistakes and evil intentions: Merlyn forgets to inform Arthur that his mother is also Morgause's mother (and when he remembers, he fails to tell Arthur immediately that Morgause is his half-sister), and Morgause tries to accomplish her evil design by using a magical object. However, White questions whether it was the spell that really made Arthur sleep with Morgause. The king's naiveté may have caused him to interpret Morgause's sexual advances at face value. Also his lack of a mother figure may have caused him to feel an attraction for Morgause as she stood before him with her children behind her. In other words, Arthur's weaknesses may have allowed him to be deceived. His union with Morgause will have tragic consequences.

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