The Once and Future King By T.H. White Summary and Analysis: The Sword and the Stone Chapters 9-12

Summary

The next morning, Kay reprimands the Wart for not returning last night. When the Wart will not reveal where he was, the boys have a fistfight in which Kay suffers a bloody nose and the Wart receives a black eye. After Kay cries to the Wart about how he feels rejected by Merlyn, the Wart visits the magician and asks if he can transform him and Kay into snakes (or another animal). Merlyn refuses to transform Kay into anything, because he was "sent" only to work his magic on the Wart. However, Merlyn does tell the Wart that he and Kay will find an adventure if they walk along Hob's strip of barley until they "come to something."

After becoming friends again, the boys follow Merlyn's advice; eventually, they enter the Forest Sauvage and encounter Much and Little John, two of Robin Wood's sentries. (Little John explains that the name "Robin Hood" is incorrect.) They soon meet the legendary bandit himself, lying in the lap of Maid Marian, his wife. He tests the boys' skill at archery and explains to them that Friar Tuck (one of their companions) and the Dog Boy (one of Ector's servants) have been kidnapped by The Oldest Ones of All: A race of fairies whose Queen, Morgan Le Fay, is "one of the worst of them." After hearing this news, the boys agree to help Robin storm the Castle Chariot and save the captives.

The plan to raid the Castle Chariot is reviewed in detail: Robin explains that only boys and girls can enter the castle and that it is guarded by a griffin — a beast that is part falcon, lion, and serpent. The boys are also warned about the effects of iron on the fairies (it will lessen their powers and thus make them aware that the boys are near) and to not eat anything they see inside the castle, however tempting it may look. The boys join Robin's band of one hundred men and make their way to the Castle Chariot; they eventually find the griffin, sneak by it, and reach the castle, which is made entirely of food. (They also see the crow from Chapter 6 perched atop it.) Kay and the Wart enter the castle, alert Morgan Le Fay with their iron knives, and charge her; the castle then collapses and disappears, freeing the captives. A battle with the griffin ensues and Kay rescues the Wart by killing it as it attacks his younger brother. Finally, after saying goodbye to Robin and his men, the boys return — as heroes — to the Castle of the Forest Sauvage. Chapter 12 ends with Wart and the Dog Boy reunited as friends.

Analysis

The parable told by Merlyn at the beginning of Chapter 9 serves as his explanation of why he can tutor only the Wart and also analogously depicts the relationship between the wizard and his tutor. In the parable, Elijah (a Biblical prophet) and Rabbi Jachanan are traveling and stay at a poor man's home and then in the cowshed of a rich merchant. According to Merlyn, the Rabbi Jachanan was incensed at what he saw as the prophet's inappropriate degree of thankfulness to the two hosts. Elijah offered no sympathy for the poor man when he awoke to find his only cow dead, but sent for a mason to repair a crumbling wall on the merchant's property. Elijah then instructed his companion on his methods: Although it was decreed that the poor man's wife was to die that night, God spared her (for her husband's kindness) and took the cow instead. Similarly, although the miser could have certainly afforded to hire his own mason, Elijah sent one immediately in order to prevent the miser from discovering a chest of gold that, if discovered, would have certainly excited his avarice. Thus, the parable's theme is the all-knowingness of God — Elijah's lesson to the Rabbi is, "Say not therefore to the Lord: What doest thou? But say in thy heart: Must not the Lord of all the earth do right?" As the Rabbi spoke without understanding and needed to be taught by Elijah, so the Wart, in his ignorance, asks Merlyn to transform Kay into an animal and needs to be taught by his mentor; as Merlyn says, "It is unfair," but the situation is also ordained by God. Like his counterpart in the parable, the Wart is unaware that there are forces greater than himself at work in determining the fates of those around him. Although Merlyn is "sorry" that the Wart "should be the only one to get [his] extra tuition," he "was only sent for that." Kingship is predetermined, and this is one of the first moments in the novel in which White intimates that the book's entire action, from the very beginning, has been "decreed" in order to bring the Wart to the jousting tournament in London, where he will discover his role as "once and future King."

Until that time, however, the Wart will need to content himself with his faith in Merlyn, a faith that is always rewarded. His desire for an adventure that he can share with Kay results in another lesson in a different kind of "classroom." Merlyn's decision to have the Wart meet Robin Wood is very much like his making the boy spend time in the mews. He wants the Wart to observe admirable and heroic qualities in others so that he will have the memory of sufficient role models to guide is behavior once he is King. Robin Hood is not an Arthurian character per se, but one found in ballads of the later Middle Ages; however, the fun (and irony) of these chapters lies in the fact that they describe one legendary character meeting another — although one of the two does not know of his future legendary status. As one of the Wart's many teachers, Robin is invaluable: He is physically agile, tender (singing duets with Maid Marian), and a steadfast leader of men who resists oppression and tyranny (his soldiers are compared to those "of the resistance in later occupations"). Also, note that Maid Marian is another of the Wart's teachers, instructing him in the best ways to walk through a virgin forest without making any noise.

The core of the Wart's adventure with Robin Wood is his rescue of Friar Tuck and the Dog Boy from the Oldest Ones of All. White could have invented any sort of test in which the Wart could learn about courage, but a careful reader will note that White ascribes to the fairies (and their Queen, Morgan Le Fay) a quality that a future leader should definitely not possess: gluttony. One of the fairies' oldest poems describes a castle made out of "thin pressed cheese," "a bacon house," and "pillars of marvelous pork," and when the boys face Morgan Le Fay, she is not the vixen that she sometimes appears to be in legend, but instead is a "fat" and "dowdy" woman lying on a bed of "glorious lard." While the gluttony depicted here is the literal gorging of food, figurative gluttony must also be avoided lest a leader begin to resemble Mr. P. (the perch who gorges on power in Chapter 5) or, to a lesser degree, Kay (who, at the end of the adventure, will "gorge" on the glory of killing the griffin). Moderation, not extremity, is one key to a successful reign. Robin epitomizes discipline (he leads a hundred men and makes them recite their plans twice to be sure that they are understood); it is therefore fitting that his (and the Wart's) enemies here should be ones associated with a lack of discipline. The fairies are Robin Wood's enemies philosophically as well as physically, and Merlyn (who, like Elijah, knows more than his pupil) wants their gluttony to appear distasteful to the futureKing.

The outcome of the adventure reveals a fundamental difference between the Wart and Kay and — on a bigger scale — two ways of regarding one's victory in battle. To Kay, victory is a means by which glory is obtained: He boasts that he "shot dozens" of griffins and undoubtedly revels in his father's decision to have the griffin's head mounted, as a trophy, with "KAY'S FIRST GRIFFIN" written on a card underneath it. To the Wart, however, victory is an opportunity to use one's power for the good of others. When asked by Robin to name any reward for his courage, the Wart asks to take Wat (the mad wanderer of the forest) to Merlyn so that he could get his "wits" restored with the wizard's help. Kay thinks of himself while the Wart is selfless: Even at Sir Ector's, his only desire is to see that Wat reaches Merlyn's study. Kay's energies are focused inward and work for the good of his own reputation; the Wart's energies are focused outward on assisting others. His compassion will eventually be one of the reasons for his beloved stature as King Arthur.

Glossary

helot one of a class of serfs in ancient Sparta.

Erasmus Erasmus Desiderius (about 1466-1536), Dutch humanist, scholar, and theologian.

brambles and bindweed and honeysuckle and convolvulus and teazles and the stuff which country people call sweethearts various types of wild plants.

fritillaries butterflies, usually having brownish wings with silver spots on the undersides.

Saxons a tribe of Germanic warriors who (with the Angles, another Germanic tribe) invaded parts of Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries; here, the word is used by Robin Wood to denote those British people who resisted the Norman invasion of 1066.

Gaels the race of Gaelic-speaking Celts, displaced by the Anglo-Saxon invasions in the 5th and 6th centuries.

Circe the ancient Greek goddess of witchcraft; in The Odyssey, she turns unwitting sailors into swine.

griffin a mythical monster with the body and hind legs of a lion and the head, wings, and claws of an eagle.

Weyve a female outlaw.

stridulation the sound made by a grasshopper.

the book of Sir John de Mandeville (1371) a famous book of travels that also describes fantastic people and creatures that the author claims to have seen in Africa and the Orient.

a wattling of tripe a roof made of tripe, or cow's stomach.

chitterlings the small intestines of pigs, used for food, usually fried in deep fat.

mnemonic a short phrase or sentence used to jog one's memory, such as Every Good Boy Does Fine to recall the five notes (E, G, B, D, F) on the musical scale.

assonances rhymes ("what" and "wat").

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

How does the Wart, now King Arthur, describe war that infuriates Merlyn?




Quiz