A first-time reader of White's novel may be surprised at his initial portrayal of King Arthur — arguably the most famous monarch in literature — as an unassuming, rustic boy. In fact, Arthur is known only by his diminutive nickname "the Wart" until the very end of the book, when Merlyn addresses him by his more famous title. He is, throughout the novel, like a medieval Huckleberry Finn, discovering his personality as it is revealed to him through a number of tests and triumphs.
White's reasons for calling the young Arthur "the Wart" reflect his overall portrayal of the young king. When the novel begins, the Wart is a naïve, impressionable, and seemingly inconsequential boy, living in the shadow of his older brother. While he could never imagine himself as a figure in a medieval romance, he certainly devours these legends wholeheartedly, as seen through his awe of King Pellinore when they meet in the forest. (He later tells Merlyn that his greatest wish is to wear a "splendid suit of armor" and call himself "the Black Knight.") The Wart's admiration for all those connected with knighthood and adventure (such as King Pellinore, Kay, Sir Grummore, and Robin Wood) marks him as a "born hero-worshipper," an ironic description for the person who is to become one of the most-often-worshipped legendary heroes. The Wart, however, never dreams that he — a foundling — can ever rise to such heights.
This sense of childlike wonder makes the Wart an apt pupil for Merlyn's lessons. Throughout all of his tutorials with Merlyn, the Wart remains wide-eyed and receptive. Unlike Kay, who is often stubborn and selfish, the Wart is genuinely interested in the people (or, in his case, the animals) that he meets. This desire to learn about the beliefs and values of others will mark him as a fair and upright king — which the other volumes of White's saga confirm.
The fact that the Wart "becomes" King Arthur while fetching a sword for Kay is significant: Until the very moment where his destiny is revealed to him, the Wart remains subservient, eager to please others. When he pulls the sword from the stone and sees Ector and Kay kneel before him, the Wart begins to cry — unlike his brother, the Wart cannot imagine himself the recipient of great fame or renown. While he did confess to Merlyn that he would have liked to have been a knight, that was (in the Wart's mind) just a fantasy. White, however, views the Wart's sincerity and lack of presumption as his two greatest assets, contributing to the "reward" he receives at the end of the novel.