The Once and Future King | Study Guide

T. H. White

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The Once and Future King | Part 3, Chapters 19–21 : The Ill-Made Knight | Summary

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Summary

Part 3, Chapter 19

Sir Bliant visits King Pelles at his castle. The two men eat pastries by the fireplace as they talk about the wild man. A few years ago the wild man appeared in the area. His identity remains a mystery, though some believe he is Lancelot. Pelles claims the man was killed by a boar. Bliant met the wild man during a summer quest. Afraid of him, Bliant dressed in armor and approached him holding a sword. The man knocked him down, jumped in bed with his wife, and went to sleep. Bliant tied up the man and kept him for more than a year. One day Bliant was attacked by two knights. Seeing this, the wild man broke out of his chains and rescued Bliant. After this the man got on a horse and joined a boar hunt. Pelles says the wild man killed a ferocious boar but received a mortal wound during the process.

Part 3, Chapter 20

Chased by boys throwing stones at him, the wild man runs into Pelles's castle. A crowd gathers around him. Pelles approaches and asks the man if he's Lancelot. The man doesn't respond. Pelles decides to use the man as a fool and locks him in the pigeon house. During a knighting ceremony, Pelles calls for the wild man, who comes dressed in jester's clothes. Pelles places his royal robe over the man, which makes him appear majestic. The man walks back to the pigeon house.

Part 3, Chapter 21

Dressed as a novice (a nun-in-training), Elaine walks with her three-year-old son, Galahad, in her father's castle garden. Believing Lancelot is dead, she feels she can love no one else and so wants to become a nun. She comes upon the wild man dressed in Pelles's robe sleeping by the well. Recognizing him as Lancelot, Elaine kneels by him and cries. She tells Pelles about her encounter. The king dresses the exhausted Lancelot in clean clothes and puts him to sleep in a nice bed. After sleeping a long time, Lancelot wakes up and wonders how he got here. Elaine tells him he has had a breakdown. Lancelot realizes he's been making a fool of himself.

Analysis

In Part 3, Chapters 19 to 21, Lancelot becomes a victim of his own harsh view of himself, which involves striving for perfection to make up for his inherent fallibility. In previous chapters White described Lancelot's pain at losing his virginity and thus having to relinquish the possibility of becoming a great, perfect knight. However, Lancelot finds some solace through his love for Guenever. For a while the couple found a type of perfection in their loving relationship. When Elaine tricks Lancelot again and Guenever accuses him of being a mean, ugly seducer, even his relationship with Guenever is destroyed. He becomes trapped in a situation where he can find no honorable solution: he can no longer be a great knight, and he can no longer be Guenever's ideal lover. He can't stay with Elaine because he doesn't love her. With all of his defenses against his inner weakness stripped away, Lancelot succumbs to what he sees as his inner demons. He lets the shadow side of his personality come to the fore, becoming the wild man. The wild man is in many ways the direct opposite of Lancelot the noble Knight of the Round Table. As the wild man, Lancelot pays no attention to decorum or logic. He is no longer guided by noble ideas, only by a brute survival instinct. He wanders the countryside naked, fighting whomever threatens him.

Lancelot's recovery from his wildness involves outer trappings. When the wild man wears Pelles's royal robe, he seems to reconnect with his former identity as Lancelot. He attempts to groom himself and wash his face. Later Pelles gives Lancelot fresh clothes to wear. The king also provides Lancelot with a nice bed to sleep in and a room with a cozy fireplace. All of these trappings seem to jog the wild man's memory of his former self. After sleeping for many hours, the wild man wakes up and slips into Lancelot's identity as into a fine suit of clothes.

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