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The Once and Future King | Study Guide

T. H. White

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The Once and Future King | Part 3, Chapters 10–12 : The Ill-Made Knight | Summary



Part 3, Chapter 10

Sir Lancelot confesses his feelings about Guenever to Uncle Dap, asking him if Dap thinks the queen loves him. Dap tells Lancelot to ask the queen what her feelings are. Lancelot is ashamed of loving Guenever but also consumed by passion for her.

Part 3, Chapter 11

Lancelot remains at Camelot for several weeks. The queen tells him to go on a quest, and he obeys. Lancelot comes to the haunted castle of Corbin, which is ruled by King Pelles. The townsfolk inform Lancelot that the king's daughter, Elaine, had a wicked spell put on her by Morgan le Fay and the Queen of Northgalis. The daughter has existed in boiling water for several years. Although the water does not kill or disfigure her, she feels constant pain from the heat. Lancelot enters the tower where the daughter is kept, finds the young woman, and brings her out of the boiling water. At the tower's gate, the daughter is greeted by ecstatic villagers. King Pelles arrives and formally introduces his daughter to Lancelot. The knight thinks Elaine is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, aside from Guenever.

Part 3, Chapter 12

Lancelot remains at the castle of Corbin, where he is wined and dined by King Pelles. One evening the butler gets Lancelot drunk and gives the unknowing knight a love potion. Lancelot then receives a note that is supposedly from Guenever. She is waiting at the castle of Case and wants Lancelot to come to her. Lancelot heads for this castle. The next morning Lancelot wakes up in a strange room, believing he just made love to Guenever. However, he discovers the woman in his bed is Elaine, who has tricked him into believing she was Guenever. Furious, Lancelot claims he'll kill her, but he eventually relents. Elaine cries and says she deceived Lancelot because she loves him. If she has a baby, Elaine says she'll call him Galahad. Lancelot replies, "It's unfair to bind me with pity." He then leaves, hoping never to see Elaine again.


In Part 3, Chapters 10 to 12, Lancelot continues to be tortured by his love for Guenever. He is tormented by his feelings partly because by loving Guenever he is committing emotional adultery and thus betraying his best friend, Arthur. Raised a strict Catholic, the knight believes having these feelings is a sin, even though he hasn't acted on them yet. His love for Guenever also confirms Lancelot's view of himself. As has been shown, Lancelot hates himself, a feeling he has held since childhood. Loving Guenever allows him to reaffirm that deep down he is a horrible person. Lancelot's love for the queen, therefore, is a huge stumbling block on his quest for inner perfection.

White expands Lancelot's view of perfection by taking into account its cultural underpinnings. For Lancelot perfection is closely tied to virginity. He rejects the idea of having sex with Guenever partly because doing so would betray Arthur and partly because it would take away his virginity. Lancelot is furious at Elaine for tricking him because "only virgins can work miracles." This view reflects the medieval teachings of the Catholic Church. According to church doctrine the state of virginity puts the individual on a higher spiritual level than individuals who are sexually active. Once a person has sex he or she has become less spiritually pure, even if the sexual act is within the sanctity of marriage. As a result the Catholic Church insists that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a perpetual virgin: she was a virgin when she conceived Jesus and remained a virgin throughout her life. Lancelot fears having sex will forever prevent him from achieving perfection and will weaken his physical strength. The narrator says, "The thing which Elaine has stolen from him was his might."

Lancelot's fallibility also in part relates to his youth. Because of his naiveté, the knight doesn't suspect that the butler is getting him drunk for an underhanded purpose. He just sees the butler as a good-hearted fellow in whom he can confide.

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