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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 13–15 : The Ill-Made Knight | Summary



Part 3, Chapter 13

Guenever, 22 years old, sits in her room working on petit point. She still does not have much knowledge of the world, and she is still a woman who can get carried away by her emotions. She yearns for Lancelot to return and love her. Soon Lancelot does return, and Guenever, both laughing and weeping, is unfaithful to her husband.

Part 3, Chapter 14

Arthur asks Lancelot to stay at Camelot when he goes to France to fight for King Ban, and Lancelot reluctantly agrees. During Arthur's absence Lancelot and Guenever engage in a love affair and are very happy. Even though they continue their affair after this period, they are never this happy again. Lancelot confesses to Guenever that he hated himself when he was a child and that as a boy he wanted to do something great, such as perform a miracle, perhaps to make up for his inferiority. He did perform a miracle by rescuing Elaine from the boiling water. However, because of his love for Guenever, he knows he has fallen from grace and will never perform another miracle. But he doesn't want to stop loving her. Guenever has difficulty understanding Lancelot's motives, which seem selfish to her. Lancelot admits to being selfish and says he's giving his hopes to her as a gift.

Part 3, Chapter 15

After Arthur's return from the war in France, Lancelot's cousin Sir Bors tells Lancelot that Elaine had his baby son and has named him Galahad. Rumors spread about this news throughout Camelot, eventually reaching Guenever. She confronts Lancelot, calling him a liar and a "mean seducer." Lancelot explains he was tricked into having sex with Elaine. Guenever breaks down and cries, Lancelot comforts her, and they shower each other with kisses. However, this event sows seeds of hatred and fear in their relationship.


In Part 3, Chapters 13 to 15, White explores the views of Guenever and Lancelot concerning their relationship. Guenever's motivation for the affair seems more natural than Lancelot's. Like many young women, Guenever has gotten carried away by her emotions. However, Lancelot's motivation is less natural and more warped. As White has shown, Lancelot was not like other boys. He spent long hours training obsessively to be a great knight, motivated by his dreams of achieving glory for Arthur. He didn't allow himself the frivolities enjoyed by other boys. As Lancelot explains to Guenever, "I have always been making up." He has been trying to make up for his sense of inferiority by striving for perfection. Elaine spoiled his quest for perfection by tricking him into giving up his virginity. With the possibility of perfection lost forever, Lancelot sees no good reason not to have an affair with Guenever. Lancelot, the narrator says, "was a lie now ... so he felt ... he might as well ... lie in earnest." Lancelot finds he enjoys giving in to his human fallibility. He becomes so attached to Guenever that he can't leave her even though he knows he is sinning. When he explains his motivations to her, she has difficulty understanding them. Her emotions are more straightforward: she deeply loves Lancelot and wants to be with him.

White also expands the theme of perfection versus fallibility by applying it to Guenever's and Lancelot's affair. Lancelot sees his sexual relationship with Guenever as a fall from grace and perfection, yet their love also creates a type of perfection that transports them to a new level. During the first year of their affair, as the narrator says, "the four seasons were colored like the edge of a rose petal for them." They are overjoyed by each other's love. However, when Guenever finds out that Lancelot slept with Elaine and is the father of her baby, the perfect love between the queen and Lancelot is destroyed. Guenever and Lancelot continue to be lovers, but their relationship has forever lost its innocence.

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