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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 22–24 : The Ill-Made Knight | Summary



Part 3, Chapter 22

Elaine helps to nurse Lancelot back to health. One day while resting in bed, Lancelot talks to Elaine about their future. Lancelot says he can't go back to court. Elaine says her father will give him a castle where Lancelot and she could live. Lancelot admits he doesn't love Elaine. Because Elaine tricked him twice, Lancelot feels under no obligation to marry her. Elaine says she would gladly accept living with Lancelot without marriage. Lancelot and Elaine prepare to move into the castle formerly owned by Sir Bliant. Lancelot now calls himself the Chevalier Mal Fet (the Ugly Knight) to avoid revealing his true identity. Elaine is happy about being with Lancelot and having him help raise their son, Galahad, but Lancelot is ill at ease about accepting Elaine's offer of living with him even though he hasn't married her.

Part 3, Chapter 23

In a tournament arranged by Elaine the next spring, Lancelot, disguised as the Chevalier Mal Fet, easily defeats all opponents. Afterward Elaine finds Lancelot on the battlement staring toward Camelot. She knows he is pining for Guenever, and she feels powerless to prevent this. One day two knights challenge Lancelot. If Lancelot defeats the first knight, then he will fight the second one. After fighting for two hours, the first knight asks the identity of the Chevalier Mal Fet. Lancelot reveals his true name. The first knight, who is Degalis, runs to get the second knight, who is Sir Ector, Lancelot's brother. Ecstatic, Ector greets Lancelot and says that Guenever has 23 knights out searching for him.

Part 3, Chapter 24

Ector and Degalis try to convince Lancelot to return to Camelot, telling him Guenever accepts the blame for Lancelot's departure and is miserable without him. Arthur desperately needs Lancelot to help prevent the Round Table alliance from dissolving. Lancelot refuses to return, saying he feels an obligation to stay with Elaine. Elaine feels left out as Lancelot, Ector, and Degalis talk about old times at Camelot. One day she asks Lancelot how he wants her to raise Galahad. She also wants to know whether Lancelot will return to her if he leaves. Baffled, Lancelot says he doesn't plan to leave, but if he did, he would return. Uncle Dap arrives with Lancelot's horse, armor, and sword. Lancelot meets him near the castle. He longs to wield his sword and wear his armor, imagines Guenever as the beautiful lady he loves, and leaves for Camelot as Elaine watches him from the castle.


In Part 3, Chapters 22 to 24, White explores the starkly contrasting viewpoints of Lancelot and Elaine. Elaine is a pragmatist; Lancelot is an idealist. For Elaine, the practical reality of everyday events takes precedent. Because of this she was able to store her love for Lancelot away when he was gone and focus on taking care of her son and domestic chores. When she discovers Lancelot, her love for him is kindled. However, she still sees her relationship with him in a pragmatic way. She knows Lancelot doesn't love her and will not marry her. Elaine accepts this as the way things are and makes do. She figures it's better to have Lancelot live with her than not have him at all. In contrast Lancelot finds himself in another dilemma with Elaine. After recovering his wits, he wants as best he can to follow an ideal. Marrying Elaine is not ideal because he doesn't love her. However, returning to Camelot is also not ideal because he feels he can never resume his life as a noble Knight of the Round Table. His quest for perfection has been compromised. Faced with less-than-ideal choices, Lancelot shows he has begun to mature. Instead of going off alone, he decides to accept Elaine's offer to live with her out of wedlock. Lancelot learns to compromise and accepts his life with Elaine as best he can.

The weapons Elaine uses to keep Lancelot with her are also pragmatic ones. She is a nurturing, considerate, and competent lady of the castle. Although not flashy, her weapons have an effect on Lancelot. Technically Lancelot is under no obligation to stay with Elaine. She tricked him twice into sleeping with her, after all. Despite this, the constant affection Elaine shows him makes him feel obligated to her. Lancelot can't help making everything into an ideal toward which he strives. He appreciates Elaine's kindness to him, seeing it in a noble light. As a result he believes as an honorable man he should stay with her. Elaine's practical weapons, however, prove to be no match for the idealistic weapons used by Ector, Degalis, and finally Lancelot himself. Ector tells Lancelot about how the ideal of the Round Table is being threatened. Arthur needs Lancelot to help defend this ideal. Guenever has repented of her anger at Lancelot and wants him back. She represents the ideal of romantic love to Lancelot, and her pull on him is strong. Ultimately Elaine deals with these idealistic temptations in a pragmatic way. She accepts that Lancelot will leave her even before he realizes he will do so. So she asks for practical help to endure Lancelot's absence. She knows if Lancelot promises to return one day, she can cope with his departure.

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