The Once and Future King | Study Guide

T. H. White

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The Once and Future King | Part 4, Chapters 10–12 : The Candle in the Wind | Summary



Part 4, Chapter 10

In the Justice Room, Mordred and Gawaine wait for the procession with Lancelot and Guenever. The couple has repented of any wrongdoing, and the pope has absolved them of their sins. The upcoming ceremony intends to restore peace in the land: Guenever will return to King Arthur, and Lancelot will be set free. However, Mordred and Gawaine feel dissatisfied with this situation. Gawaine still wants revenge on Lancelot for killing Gareth and Gaheris; Mordred still wants vengeance on Arthur. The procession arrives, including Lancelot, Guenever, and Arthur. Gawaine speaks of his desire to seek justice against Lancelot for killing his brothers. Lancelot pleads with Gawaine, saying he killed his brothers accidentally. Gawaine will not relent. He accepts the decision for the queen to return to Arthur, but he wants the king to treat Lancelot as a traitor. Arthur reluctantly banishes Lancelot from his domain. Before he leaves, Lancelot says he will return to defend Guenever if she is at all threatened.

Part 4, Chapter 11

In a chamber in Carlisle Castle, Queen Guenever talks with her maid about King Arthur and Gawaine attacking Lancelot's castle in France. Gawaine and Lancelot fought a duel to settle their dispute. Lancelot won but refused to kill Gawaine. The war, therefore, continues. Arthur struggles in agony over waging war against his best friend. When he left England Arthur made Mordred the Lord Protector of the land. Arthur has tried to be just with his son and also with Gawaine, who still seeks to punish Lancelot for killing Gareth and Gaheris. Guenever now stays in a castle where Mordred resides. Mordred enters the chamber, scaring away Agnes, the maid. Mordred claims Lancelot and Arthur killed each other in battle. Guenever doesn't believe it, and Mordred admits he lied. However, he plans to spread this lie and then claim the crown. Guenever asks Mordred not to do this, pointing out that Arthur will return and declare war on him. Smiling with delight, Mordred says his plan is to marry his father's wife.

Part 4, Chapter 12

In his tent near Lancelot's castle, Gawaine lays in bed with a sore head as Arthur sits next to him. Lancelot defeated Gawaine in a second duel and bashed him in the head in the same spot as before. Arthur tries to convince Gawaine to forgive Lancelot for the sake of restoring peace. Although Gawaine doubts Lancelot intentionally killed his brothers, he refuses to forgive him. Arthur reads a letter, which stuns him. He tells Gawaine that Mordred has made himself the King of England after proclaiming Arthur and Lancelot are dead. Mordred also plans to marry Guenever. She accepted his offer of marriage and insisted on traveling to London to pick out her trousseau. Once in the city, she locked herself in the Tower. Mordred has laid siege to the Tower, using cannons. Arthur and Gawaine plan to leave at once to rescue the queen.


White conveys the theme of the folly of war in even more detail in Part 4, Chapters 10 to 12. As has been shown previously, Lancelot realizes the war between himself and Arthur will not end even if he and Guenever surrender. The author now explores the dynamics that lead to constant warfare. Getting popular opinion on your side is an important aspect of this dynamic. Realizing this, Mordred uses nationalism to rally the people against Arthur. He convinces the people that they are being oppressed and that he is their savior. Mordred wants a new order that will bring true justice to the people. However, if the new order is established, it will eventually become the old order and will again be overturned through war. Another aspect of this dynamic involves personal vendettas. Lancelot killed many knights and guards while saving Guenever. Friends and relatives of these soldiers want revenge. However, if these people get their revenge, then friends and relatives of their victims will want revenge, and the cycle will continue. In addition there is still the old racial feud between the Gaels and the Galls. Many people refuse to let go of this feud and let bygones be bygones. As long as these feuds remain active, the threat of war will always be present. All of these elements combine to create the threat of perpetual war. Guenever laments, "War is like fire. One man may start it, but it will spread over all."

White conveys the theme of perfection versus fallibility through Mordred. Like his mother, Morgause, he does not try to correct his weaknesses but instead indulges them, leading him to madness. Mordred has become so consumed by his hatred of Arthur that he stops being a real person and becomes more like a puppet controlled by Morgause from beyond the grave. Morgause raised Mordred for 27 years. During this time he became enmeshed with his mother; in essence, she tried to rob him of his soul and put her soul in its place. Instead of fighting against his mother's influence, Mordred surrendered to her. The narrator says, "She existed in him like the vampire." He even moves and talks with the same inflection as Morgause. Because of this, he doesn't relate to others as real people. He is unable to form a connection with others and cannot show sympathy or empathy. As a result he is capable of such heinous acts as lying about Lancelot and Arthur being dead, claiming the throne, and wanting to marry his father's wife.

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