The Once and Future King By T.H. White Summary and Analysis: The Sword and the Stone Chapters 22-24

Summary

The day before Kay is to be knighted, Pellinore arrives at Sir Ector's and informs him that the King, Uther Pendragon, has died without an heir. He also explains that, in London, a sword has mysteriously appeared that passes through an anvil (a heavy blacksmith's block on which he bangs pieces of metal) and then into a stone. The inscription on the pommel reads, "Whoso Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of All England." On New Year's Day, Pellinore explains that a tournament will be held so that all the men of England can try to remove the sword. Kay asks his father if they may visit the capital for the tournament, and Sir Ector eventually agrees. The Wart, unaware of the events in London and brokenhearted at Merlyn's announcement that he is leaving, then enters with his tutor.

Sir Ector and his boys travel to London for the tournament. When Kay arrives at the tilting grounds, he realizes he has forgotten his sword and sends the Wart (now his squire) back to their inn to retrieve it. Finding the inn locked and no one inside, the Wart desperately searches for a replacement sword. He approaches the sword in the stone (having no idea of its significance) and, after a struggle, removes it. (All of his animal friends watch and coach him as he makes his attempts.) When he brings it to Kay and tells of how he got it, Kay lies to his father and says that he (Kay) pulled it out of the stone. Kay eventually confesses that the Wart pulled it out. Ector and Kay then fall to their knees and hail the Wart as their new King. The Wart, confused and embarrassed, bursts into tears.

The novel ends with the Wart's coronation and a party that is thrown after it. All of the characters attend the party and bring the Wart a number of gifts. The last gift is given by Ector: a cone that looks like a dunce cap that is lit at one end, which turns into Merlyn. The magician explains that Uther Pendragon was the Wart's father; Merlyn knew this, of course, but was forbidden to mention it to the boy. Merlyn then asks the privilege of being the first of the Wart's subjects to address him with his new tittle: King Arthur. Merlyn also reassures his new King that he will stay with him for a long time.

Analysis

Kay's desire to attend the tournament in London reflects his desire for fame and the cultivation of his reputation. According to him, "anybody who does not go for a tournament like this will be proving that he has no noble blood in his veins." He feels that he must "have a shot" at the sword, or people will say "Sir Ector's family was too vulgar and knew it had no chance." When he arrives in London, he is even more egotistical, offering the Wart a shilling to fetch his sword, as if he is the Lord of a manor tipping a carriage-driver or servant. The greatest display of his need for fame occurs when he lies to his father by claiming that he (and not the Wart) removed the sword from the stone.

In these final chapters, as in the rest of the novel, the Wart is a direct contrast to his brother. While Kay worries about impressing the public in London, the Wart cries over the announcement of Merlyn's departure. Kay frets over appearing noble at the tournament, while the Wart pulls the sword from the stone without any understanding of his impending greatness. Also note that Kay is quick to lie and claim the honors of having removed the sword, while the Wart begins to cry when he realizes he will be King. This is, perhaps, an unexpected response, but one must remember that the Wart does not covet power or the chance to lord his new position over anybody. However, Kay does redeem himself by admitting that the Wart pulled out the sword — to a degree, he, too, has evolved along with his brother.

The scene in which the Wart removes the sword is like his "graduation" from the program of studies he has followed since boyhood. All the animals he has befriended arrive to cheer him on as he pulls at the sword. White stresses the fact that all the animals in attendance "had come to help on account of love"; the Wart is not especially strong or savvy — but he does endear others to him, and the combined power of all of their love allows the Wart to feel "his power grow." These citizens of his kingdom love him already, and their human counterparts will feel the same way.

The detailed list of gifts given to the Wart reads like a summary of the Wart's life since the beginning of the novel. Some of the gifts are reminiscent of his adventures (Robin and Marian give him a gown made from pine martens); some are touching (Cavil gives him "his heart and soul," Kay gives his own record griffin, "with honest love"); and some are outright jokes on White's part (Pellinore and the Questing Beast send some of their "most perfect fewmets"). The Lord Mayor and Aldermen's gift of a spacious "aquarium-mews-cum-menagerie" underscores the importance that the animals have played in the Wart's education.

Merlyn's having the last words in the novel is certainly just, because he engineered the Wart's entire education. His gift — a promise to stay with the Wart — is the most valuable of them all, and his final confirmation that he will stay reflects the novel as a whole: "Yes, Wart. Or rather, as I should say (or is it have said?), Yes, King Arthur." In a book filled with transformations, this is the greatest one: A simple boy whose nickname suggests his unimportance is transformed into the man holding the most powerful title in England. After becoming a perch, hawk, ant, goose, and badger, the Wart has become King Arthur.

Glossary

standards, banners, pennons, pennoncells, banderolls, guidons, streamers and cognizances different decorative flags and ribbons used to adorn the castle.

lollards any of the followers of John Wycliffe in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England.

pommel the knob on the end of the hilt of some swords and daggers.

Some red propaganda "Some communist propaganda."

palfrey a saddle horse.

hostelry inn.

Punch and Judy English puppets known for slapstick humor.

hurdy-gurdy an early instrument shaped like a lute or violin but played by turning a crank attached to a rosined wheel that causes the strings to vibrate.

wote know.

wend thought.

seneschal a steward or major-domo in the household of a medieval noble.

burghers inhabitants of a borough or town.

given an angel each an "angel" is a medieval coin bearing a figure of the archangel Michael piercing a dragon.

char-a-banc a coach.

Aldermen members of an English borough council.

beys a Turkish title of respect and former title of rank.

mahatmas in India, those of a class of wise and holy persons held in special regard or reverence.

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