Summary and Analysis: <i>The Sword and the Stone</i>
As autumn arrives, Sir Ector receives a letter from Uther Pendragon, the King of Gramarye, in which he is told of the King's plan to send Sir William Twyti, the royal huntsman, to the Forest Sauvage in order to kill two or three wild boars. Sir Ector is expected to provide food and lodging for Twyti (and his retinue), as well as salt the boar flesh to keep it fresh until Twyti's departure. Sir Ector is upset about the news (which he calls "a confounded piece of tyranny"), because he will have to turn his own hounds out of their kennels to lodge the royal ones, and make a number of similar accommodations. He consoles himself with the thought that perhaps Twyti and his men will be eaten in the forest by griffin.
That Christmas night, a tremendous feast is held in Sir Ector's castle to celebrate the arrival of Twyti. Sir Grummore, King Pellinore, Twyti, and an old man named Ralph Passelewe all sing rousing songs to the delight of the entire village. Sir Ector ends the feast with a set speech he has recited before and the singing of the national anthem.
The next day, the Wart wakes up very excited about the prospect of the hunt. After White describes the dangers and terrors of boar hunting, the hunt begins. Robin Wood arrives and Sir Ector nervously introduces him to Grummore and Pellinore. Grummore is charged by a boar and is hurt; eventually, the boar is trapped in a fallen tree and is killed by Robin. Twyti becomes tearful when he learns that Beaumont, one of his hounds, has had his back broken by the boar. Robin puts the dog out of his misery; to lighten the mood, White has Pellinore find the Questing Beast pining away for Pellinore, who promises to forsake Grummore's feather bed and resume his hunt for his "old beast" of a friend.
The Wart is conspicuously absent from most of these chapters, allowing White to focus instead on the atmosphere and setting of the land that he will one day come to rule. White's nostalgia for a bygone, legendary, "merry England" is apparent throughout these chapters: feudalism, eating with one's fingers, and even the weather (which "behaved itself") are cast in the soft light of sentimentality, not unlike the way that many Americans think back on a mythical 1950s. Of course, the Middle Ages (and the 1950s) were not exactly the way they are portrayed in literature, but White is more interested in warming his readers' hearts than in offering them a realistic view of medieval life.
The boar hunt, for all of its excitement, is the most violent passage in the novel, and contrasts greatly with the merrymaking of Ector's feast the night before. Worth noting is the fact that Twyti, a professional hunter, is bored by his occupation and feels trapped in his role; without realizing so, he is very much like one of the ants in Chapter 13. His desire to hunt for hares (which, unlike boars, are harmless but difficult to catch) reveals his desire to break free from his royal duties.
Another contrast in the hunting scene occurs when the Wart spies tears on Twyti's face after he finds Beaumont with a broken back: "He stroked Beaumont's head and said, "Hark to Beaumont. Softly, Beaumont, mon amy. Oyez à Beaumont the valiant. Swef, le douce Beaumont, swef, swef." Beaumont licked his hand but could not wag his tail." Twyti's speaking in French and Beaumont's inability to wag his tail evoke a sense of pity from the reader; ironically, all the violence of the hunt is not as effective as this odd scene. (White's description of Robin's killing Beaumont is also sentimental, because he is not described as killing Beaumont but instead as allowing him to run free with Orion, the mythical hunter made famous in a constellation.) Even a man as accustomed to blood as is Twyti can reveal his fragility at the strangest moments.
While the reader feels real pity for Twyti and Beaumont, the "pity" evoked for Pellinore and the Questing Beast is infused with much more humor. The Questing Beast's illness is a result of her being ignored by Pellinore, and the former quester speaks to his old prey with language more appropriate to an old lover: "I didn't mean to leave you altogether!' and "Poor creature . . . It has pined away, positively pined away, just because there was nobody to take an interest in it" are two of Pellinore's outbursts as he caresses the Beast. The gravity of the previous scene highlights the comedy of this one, which recalls Chapter 7, in which the Wart witnessed the formulaic joust between Grummore and Pellinore; here, the Questing Beast is upset because Pellinore has abandoned the formula in which, together, they made a team. Resolving to forsake worldly comforts of feather beds in favor of the Questing Beast's "fewmets," Pellinore wholeheartedly returns to the formula of hunter and hunted that once gave his life so much meaning. He is as nostalgic for his old game of "hunt the Beast" as White is for merry England.
bracken large, coarse, weedy ferns, occurring in meadows, woods, and especially wastelands.
feudal system the economic, political, and social system in medieval Europe, in which land, worked by serfs who were bound to it, was held by vassals in exchange for military and other services given to overlords.
beasts of venery animals pursued in hunting.
partisan a member of an organized civilian force fighting covertly to drive out occupying enemy troops; here, a term used to describe Robin Wood.
solar a private or upper chamber.
mullions slender, vertical dividing bars between the lights of windows, doors, and so on.
Boxing Day the first weekday after Christmas, when gifts or "boxes" are given to employees, postmen, and so on.
mead an alcoholic liquor made of fermented honey and water.
morris dances old folk dances formerly common in England, especially on May Day, in which fancy costumes were worn, often those associated with characters in the Robin Hood legends.
sherries sack or malmsey wine two types of sweet wine.
"D'ye ken William Twyti?" "Do you recognize William Twyti?" spoken in a Northern English dialect.
chine a cut of meat containing part of the backbone.
the richesses of martens, the bevies of roes, the cetes of badgers and the routs of wolves "richesses," "bevies," "cetes," and "routs" are all names for groups of the animals with which they are listed (as in "a school of fish").
Lord Baden-Powell British general (1857-1941), founder of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.
baldrick a belt worn over one shoulder and across the chest to the hip, used to support a sword or horn.
falchion a medieval sword with a short, broad, slightly curved blade.
four long notes of the mort the song played on a hunting horn to announce the death of the prey.