The Once and Future King | Study Guide

T. H. White

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The Once and Future King | Part 3, Chapters 7–9 : The Ill-Made Knight | Summary

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Summary

Part 3, Chapter 7

During his first quest Sir Lancelot confronts two Celtic knights, Sir Carados and Sir Turquine, who uphold the notion that might-is-right and thus refuse to serve King Arthur. Lancelot first comes across Sir Carados, who has Sir Gawaine slung over another horse. To free Gawaine, Lancelot fights Carados and, after about an hour of combat, kills him. Lancelot liberates Gawaine and then rides off. Soon Lancelot joins Sir Lionel. However, while Lancelot sleeps, Lionel is captured by Turquine. Morgan le Fay casts a spell on Lancelot and imprisons him in her castle. When he wakes, Morgan tells him he must choose either herself or one of three other witch queens as a mistress. Lancelot refuses, and Morgan and the other queens leave in a huff.

A servant girl agrees to free Lancelot if he helps her father, King Bagdemagus, win a tournament against his enemy. Lancelot accepts these terms. After escaping from Morgan's castle, he enters the tournament and helps Bagdemagus win. A lady then leads Lancelot to the castle of Turquine. Turquine has imprisoned many knights and whips them for his own pleasure. As Turquine rides out of his castle, Lancelot notices he has Gaheris slung over a horse. Lancelot battles Turquine for hours and finally kills him. He tells Gaheris to free the prisoners, including Lionel and Agravaine.

Part 3, Chapter 8

Several lords cling to the old notion of might-is-right and refuse to adopt King Arthur's new approach of using might to defend right. Lancelot fights many knights of the old guard. Lancelot removes his armor so he can climb a tree to retrieve a lady's falcon. He has been tricked, however: soon a knight in full armor arrives, eager to kill the famous Lancelot without his armor or weapons. Even so, Lancelot manages to kill the knight. Later Lancelot tries to stop a knight from killing his lady for being an adulteress. The knight makes Lancelot look the other way and then cuts off his wife's head. Furious, Lancelot wants to kill this knight, but the knight begs for mercy and Lancelot relents. Back at Camelot many knights who have yielded to Lancelot arrive. Lancelot has told them all to pay homage not to King Arthur, but to Queen Guenever.

Part 3, Chapter 9

Guenever was barely older than a child when she married King Arthur. Although the marriage was an arranged one, she learned to respect and love her husband. But she never felt romantic passion for him. When she sees so many knights paying homage to her because of Lancelot, Guenever feels like a princess in a storybook. Her passion has been kindled, but it is for Lancelot, not Arthur. Finally Lancelot arrives at Camelot and greets the king. Lancelot wonders how the idea of using might for right is coming along. Arthur confesses things are not going well. After her husband's death, Morgause has been having many love affairs. Her children want revenge against Pellinore for killing their father. The Knights of the Round Table seem more concerned with keeping score on who won the most fights and rescued the most virgins than with defending the right. Recently Lancelot unseated Gawaine in a joust, and Arthur fears Gawaine will hold this defeat against the Frenchman. The king notices Lancelot and Guenever gazing into each other's eyes.

Analysis

In Part 3, Chapters 7 and 8, White depicts a shift from a traditional political ideology to a new political ideology, namely from might-is-right to might-for-right. Arthur finds this transition more difficult than anticipated, especially with the old guard of nobles who are entrenched in the concept of might-is-right. In a way, the old guard's resistance to might-for-right is understandable. For centuries they have been reaping the rewards of using might to dominate others. The narrator points out, "few people can hate so bitterly ... as the ... ruling caste which is being dispossessed." Indeed their hatred of Arthur and his knights, especially Lancelot, has become extreme. The strongest example of the old guard is Sir Turquine: he has become so consumed with his own might that he captures other knights and tortures them for his own pleasure. Turquine resembles many sadistic leaders in the past, including Vlad the Impaler, a 15th-century Romanian ruler who impaled his enemies on stakes and left them to die. Turquine's fight with Sir Lancelot, therefore, can be seen as the titanic struggle between two ideologies. For his part Lancelot represents the extreme of might-for-right. He is a person who tries to follow his beliefs to perfection. After hours of combat, Sir Lancelot is triumphant, and might-for-right prevails.

During his time pursuing quests and fighting to conquer the old guard, Lancelot's fallibility comes to the fore. He goes on quests in part to get away from Guenever, with whom he has fallen in love. By doing this, however, he has made the situation with the queen even worse. Consumed by the desire to achieve perfection, Lancelot wants to conquer his feelings for Guenever. In the process he makes his love for her into a forbidden fruit. The fact that loving her is forbidden in his mind makes him focus on her more, not less. As a result his desire for her increases. Indeed, despite his many quests, Lancelot can't stop thinking about the queen. His love for her becomes so consuming that he can't hold it in anymore, and he allows himself "one indulgence." He tells the knights he defeated to go to Camelot and pay homage to Queen Guenever (not King Arthur). This act is one of the worst things he could have done. Instead of extinguishing the flames of passion between himself and Guenever, Lancelot's gesture adds fuel to the fire. Overwhelmed by all the knights paying her homage, Guenever becomes even more infatuated with Lancelot.

When considering the relationship between Lancelot and Guenever, it is important to keep in mind their youth. When Lancelot goes on his quests, he is only about 20 and the queen is about the same age. Before meeting her, Lancelot had no experience with love for the opposite sex. He had spent his life as a hermit training to be a knight. Guenever's marriage with Arthur was arranged. Although she loves and respects her husband, she still clings to the adolescent fantasy of having a grand romantic passion. Passion between Lancelot and Guenever seems almost inevitable.

White touches on the theme of the folly of war with Arthur's reflections on the effect of the Round Table. Instead of letting go of their petty desires to be the best, his knights have used the Round Table to reinforce these desires. Knights are keeping score on how many enemies they have defeated; the competition that led to constant fighting and wars under Uther Pendragon still exists, just in a different form.

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