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The Once and Future King | Study Guide

T. H. White

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The Once and Future King | Part 2, Chapters 7–9 : The Queen of Air and Darkness | Summary



Part 2, Chapter 7

At Morgause's castle in Dunlothian, Morgause meets King Pellinore, Sir Grummore, and Sir Palomides. Pellinore had chased the Questing Beast to Flanders, where he fell in love with the Queen of Flanders's daughter, Piggy. The three knights got in a magic barge that led them to Dunlothian, much to the distress of Piggy and the Questing Beast. Pellinore cries about leaving his love behind. To distract him, Morgause suggests they hunt a unicorn using her as bait. (A unicorn is known to be attracted to a virgin left alone.) Agravaine tells his brothers the hunt for the unicorn was unsuccessful. The boys decide to capture a unicorn themselves to please their mother.

St. Toirdealbhach shows Morgause's sons a volume about strange creatures that includes information about unicorns. The lads learn they need to convince a maiden to bait the unicorn. They drag Meg, a kitchen maid, to the forest and bind her to a tree. The brothers agree they will capture the unicorn but not kill it. Then the boys hide. The unicorn arrives and lays its head on the maid's lap. Suddenly Agravaine springs out and spears the unicorn, killing it. Upset, Gawaine and Gareth yell at Agravaine for killing the creature. Gareth unties the maid, who runs away. Gareth runs after her. The remaining three boys gut the unicorn and bring the entrails back with them. However, they make a bloody mess of the gutting and end up cutting off the creature's head. Gareth joins them as they drag the head back to Morgause's castle. Morgause at first ignores the boys and the unicorn head, but later has them whipped because her own hunt for the creature was unsuccessful.

Part 2, Chapter 8

The plain of Bedegraine is filled with pavilions belonging to the armies of King Lot and King Arthur. In one of his pavilions, Arthur talks with Merlyn and Sir Kay about setting up an order of chivalry for knights in the British Isles. To prevent knights from claiming the seats of honor at the head of the table, Arthur proposes using a round table. The table would have to be very large to accommodate so many knights. Arthur believes this idea about the Knights of the Round Table has the best chance to succeed if he convinces the younger knights and the squires who will become knights of the honor bestowed by being in the order. Merlyn mentions that King Leodegrance, the father of Guenever (the woman Arthur will marry), has a round table he could give as a wedding gift. Arthur had no idea he is going to marry someone and dislikes being told about his future. Sir Kay claims that a justifiable reason to start a war is when a leader has to force a group to adopt an ideology or approach for their own good. Merlyn insists doing this would have terrible results.

Part 2, Chapter 9

King Pellinore continues to pine away for his love, Piggy. To cheer him up, Sir Palomides figures Pellinore needs to resume chasing after the Questing Beast. However, because the beast in not nearby, Palomides decides he and Sir Grummore should pretend to be the beast. They create a costume that somewhat resembles the creature and put it on. Grummore is the front half, and Palomides is the back half. Meanwhile Queen Morgause has grown tired of Pellinore, Grummore, and Palomides and begins to hate them. Gawaine and Agravaine have a fierce argument about their mother being friendly to the three knights, during which Gawaine almost chokes his brother to death. Grummore and Palomides tell Pellinore they just saw the Questing Beast and try to convince him to chase after it. Still sad about Piggy, Pellinore reluctantly agrees.

Grummore and Palomides dress up in a Questing Beast costume. Pellinore waits by some cliffs for the beast to be led to him by his two friends. When the beast doesn't arrive, Pellinore decides to return to the castle. In costume, Grummore and Palomides are nudged by something behind them. Looking back, they see the real Questing Beast sniffling them amorously. The two knights run off still in costume with the beast chasing after them.


In Part 2, Chapters 7 and 9, White relates the theme of perfection versus fallibility to the idea of the quest. The author believes a person goes on a quest as an attempt to gain love. Pellinore shows this with his relationship with the Questing Beast and Piggy. For years Pellinore has chased after the Questing Beast, an endeavor that has given meaning to the lives of both participants. However, when Pellinore falls in love with Piggy, he no longer has any desire to chase after the beast. He has found what he was searching for: a person who loves and understands him. Although Pellinore had a friendship with the beast, they never spent time together talking. But he can talk to Piggy. Pellinore says, "It gets a bit lonely in the Forest." The same dynamic applies to the Questing Beast. When she sees Grummore and Palomides in costume, the Questing Beast falls in love with them; having Pellinore chase her no longer seems to matter. The quest as a search for love also applies to Gawaine, Agravaine, Gareth, and Gaheris. The brothers undertake the quest for the unicorn to attain the love of their mother.

Fallibility has a strong impact on this quest for love. Grummore and Palomides come up with a problematic idea, namely making themselves look like the Questing Beast, but their imperfect attempt is motivated by love for Pellinore. They want to get him out of his depression. White depicts Grummore and Palomides in a humorous light as well-meaning clowns whose plan backfires. On the other hand, White shows Queen Morgause in a much harsher light. She also goes on a quest—to capture a unicorn—but her quest seems to be motivated by a twisted desire for love. The queen wants people to adore her for her beauty while giving no love in return. At first glance the reader might wonder how Morgause could ever think she would succeed in her quest (a unicorn is only attracted by a female virgin who is alone, but Morgause is the mother of four sons). She is shown as a person deluded by her vanity. For example she truly seems to believe she is a loving mother when she kisses Gareth. The narrator says Morgause sees herself as "the best mother to them [her sons] in the world." Because of her delusion, Morgause probably convinces herself that her beauty and "purity" of heart will attract the unicorn, but her plan doesn't work and her worldview is shown as flawed.

Morgause's fallibility has a devastating effect on her sons. Because of her neglect, her sons constantly strive to win her love. They do not blame their parents but rather themselves for their lack of love. They must prove to their mother that they are lovable. Because of this, the boys decide to capture a unicorn for Morgause. In a way the brothers see Pellinore, Grummore, and Palomides as rivals for their mother's love. This dynamic, though, goes deeper with Agravaine. As has been shown, Agravaine seems to have an almost incestuous relationship with his mother. His jealousy toward anyone who threatens to take his mother's love is intense.

In Chapter 8 White introduces the Round Table as one of the major symbols of The Once and Future King. It represents equality and justice. In using a round table, Arthur hopes to prevent the knights from seeking higher status by sitting at the head of a rectangular table. Therefore the Round Table can be seen as anti-hierarchical. However, the Round Table does not support a classless society such as communism. Arthur wants to use the table to establish equality among the class of knight, but there will still be various other social classes, including nobility and peasants. Also in this chapter, the author examines the pitfall that comes from justifying war. Kay claims a country could start a war in order to make another country accept an ideology or approach for their own good. Merlyn rejects this idea, anachronistically alluding to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, who during World War II attempted to force other nations to adopt his ideology of Aryan supremacism. The act of coercion is in itself evil and cannot be made good no matter the justification. The wizard gives the example of Jesus Christ, who never forced anyone to accept God's love.

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