The Once and Future King | Study Guide

T. H. White

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The Once and Future King | Part 3, Chapters 16–18 : The Ill-Made Knight | Summary



Part 3, Chapter 16

Elaine decides to go to Camelot in an attempt to win Lancelot's love. She brings her baby, Galahad, with her. Lancelot feels torn between his love for Guenever, his love for Arthur, and his desire for spiritual perfection. Guenever dreads Elaine's arrival: she becomes irritable for unconscious reasons and is jealous of Elaine's baby. Arthur has no proof that his wife and Lancelot are lovers, but he knows they are. However, he hopes that if he ignores the situation, the problem will resolve itself. Lancelot admits to Arthur that his soul is troubled, but he lays the blame on Elaine and her deception of him. Guenever tells Lancelot that they will not make love when Elaine visits. She wants to give Lancelot the chance to love Elaine and marry her if he wants to.

Part 3, Chapter 17

Guenever welcomes Elaine and her baby to Camelot. Each woman disguises her hostility toward the other. Lancelot delays seeing the baby. Guenever says Galahad resembles Elaine, and Lancelot is relieved the infant isn't ugly. Guenever directs Lancelot to visit Elaine and the baby, but she warns him that if he sleeps with Elaine, she will break off sexual relations with him. Lancelot visits the baby in Elaine's room, Elaine tries to embrace him, but he rebuffs her and leaves. In the middle of the night, in darkness, he is led to what he thinks is Guenever's room, but is actually Elaine's bedroom.

Part 3, Chapter 18

Guenever sends for Lancelot and Elaine. Lancelot feels happy remembering how he and Guenever made love the night before. However, Guenever is furious at both Lancelot and Elaine. She accuses Lancelot of sleeping with Elaine and orders them both to leave the castle. Elaine admits Lancelot thought he was coming to Guenever last night, but was led by a servant to her bed. The queen is livid, and Lancelot feels tricked yet again and tries to appease Guenever. She insults his appearance, referring to his "evil, ugly, beastlike face." Suddenly Lancelot jumps out the window and runs away. Elaine accuses Guenever of driving Lancelot mad. Stunned by Lancelot's behavior, Guenever wonders what to do. Elaine tells Guenever that she has won Lancelot and leaves. Guenever breaks down crying.


White develops the theme of the folly of war by taking it beyond the military battlefield and applying it to the battlefield of love. When Elaine visits Guenever and Lancelot at Camelot, the two women wage a type of war against each other for the love of Lancelot. Elaine uses artlessness as her tactic; her weapons are just presenting herself and her baby in the best way possible. She dresses in fancy clothes in the hope of persuading Lancelot to love her for her beauty and love for him. She doesn't even use the baby as a weapon to make Lancelot feel guilty. Instead she hopes the presence of the baby will ignite his love for the child and for her. Guenever, however, is more conniving with her strategy. She makes Lancelot go through a type of test. If Lancelot sleeps with Elaine, then he fails the test and Guenever rejects his love. However, if he spurns Elaine and the baby, he proves his love for Guenever. Lancelot, therefore, is used as a pawn in this battle. Guenever's strategy backfires on her. Consumed by a desperate love for Lancelot, Elaine tricks him again, making him believe he is making love with Guenever when he is really with Elaine. Guenever does not believe what she regards as a feeble excuse on Lancelot's part. Caught in the struggle between these two women, Lancelot seems to be driven mad. As with a military war, the war of love also ends in folly: neither Elaine nor Guenever win Lancelot's love, both women are distraught, and Lancelet becomes mentally imbalanced.

In Chapter 16 White explores the viewpoints of Lancelot, Guenever, and Arthur concerning the romantic triangle that has formed among them. For each character, his or her strengths end up being his or her weaknesses. For example, Lancelot is very idealistic, which makes him a great knight and supporter of King Arthur. However, because of his idealism, he is tortured by his feelings for Guenever and his betrayal of Arthur. Guenever is a courageous, generous woman who has strong intuition. Because of her courage, she meets Elaine's arrival head on. However, her intuition fills her with dread. She doesn't know the cause of her fear, which makes her restless and unreasonable. On the other hand, Arthur is a simple, affectionate man, who usually tries to think the best of people. He loves both Guenever and Lancelot, so he refuses to directly confront the illicit lovers. The narrator says Arthur hoped that "if he trusted Lancelot and Guenever, things would come right in the end." Arthur's refusal to put an end to the relationship leads to trouble down the road.

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