I’m done reading T.H. White’s Once and Future King, likely one of the best stories about King Arthur and his Round Table.

It begins with Wart. Wart is the adopted son of Sir Ector and the brother of Sir Kay. Wart and Kay have adventures, eventually, seeking out a wayward falcon, Wart discovers Merlin. From now on, I’ll skip around as it suits me. Merlin begins teaching Wart about the world, and more importantly, about being a king. For me, the two ‘lessons’ that stick out most. The first is the experience with the Pike King of the Moat. He makes the case that Might makes Right. It is portrayed as being seductive, almost hypnotic and addictive. The Pike states that he can’t help himself from acting this way, and that it is natural for him to act this way. The second lesson is with the Falcons. They are orderly, but one or two of them have gone quite mad. They talk about things and prove to Wart the value of a test of courage/rite of passage.

Next, there is a tournament. Sir Kay forgets his sword and sends Wart back to get it. The tournament being for the Sword in the Stone. Wart pulls the sword for the stone and gives it to Kay, not knowing what he’s done. Kay returns the sword to Wart. One of the best parts of the scene is that all the animals that Wart met on the way to his maturity come to give him advice. The subversion comes in when he just gently tugs the sword out. He is revealed by Merlin to be King Arthur, son of King Uther Pendragon.

Afterward, the kingdom is his. but he has to fight for it. The Orkneys, his father’s ancient enemies and the enemies of all Normans, are against him. Especially arrayed against him are the witch daughters of Uther’s wife, but not the daughters of King Uther, Morgause and Morgan Le Faye (there are others), besides King Lot and other kings who are against King Arthur’s theories on Might. King Arthur wants to change the riotous and pillaging ways of the Barons and turn Might to work for the people to protect them. This is his major goal.

He succeeds, but Morgause seduces him (in front of her four kids: Gawaine, Gaheris, Gareth and Agravaine, No less!) and produces a child later: Mordred, but he isn’t important right now. King Arthur weds Guinevere and is given the Round Table. He creates his knights, according to White, to channel their Might (which must be spent lest they go crazy and do bad things, like Pillage and Rape) into Right. 150 knights eventually take up the call and go out questing. Some names that should be known:

Sir Lancelot, Sir Kay, Sir Bedivere, Sir Gawaine, Sir Galahad, Sir Gaheris, Sir Lamarack, Sir Tristram, Sir Palomides, Sir Agravaine, Sir Gareth, Sir Percival, Sir Bors, Sir Lucien, Sir Mordred, and a hundred and something others.

Sir Galahad

These brave men, cowardly men and honorable men, all fought for Arthur. Some of them were not loyal, but others were, and they are the ones who truly matter. Lancelot was loyal to Arthur, despite cheating with Guinevere, and became his commander in chief. Sir Gawaine and his Orkneys cause trouble, but also remain loyal, until the end. Two great things tear the Round Table apart, first, is the quest for the Holy Grail (which killed half the knights that went on it) and Mordred. The holy grail is explanatory, Mordred requires a bit more talking.

Mordred is the bastard son of Arthur and Morgause, his half-sister. He is a cripple in many versions, who relies on guile and influence. Interestingly, he could be seen as a subversion of Might, as he cannot physically wield it. Either way, hatred and Freudian excuses drive him to rebel against Arthur while he dealing with Lancelot (for a time). He is twisted and evil… but he desires to destroy Arthur’s creation, but has little plan for after his rule. He is the one who convinces Agravaine to reveal Guinevere’s affair with Lancelot (Arthur always knew, but didn’t want to recognize it. He had had affairs of his own) He is also the one to turn the interests and foibles of court from Arthur to himself, calling his group the ‘Thrashers’ which is an odd name anyway.

There are a series of great stories about Lancelot, Guinevere and Arthur, but in the end, Guinevere and Lancelot give penance, but the damage is done. The kingdom is unraveling slowly and Mordred takes power while Arthur tries to mediate between Gawaine (who has lost three brothers to Lancelot) and Lancelot. They return to England, where the rest of the knights (those few who have survived) die, except Bedivere and Arthur. And Mordred.

My Favorite Arthurian Picture of all time.

The story of the Once and Future King, however, ends with Arthur thinking on his life before the battle of Camlen, and passing his legend on to Thomas Malory. Arthur realizes that he’s not done a bad job, but his main failing was that Merlin taught him that man was GOOD and society was BAD, however he realizes that Man was BAD and society could be GOOD, but not always. He is satisfied

The book was one of the best I’d read. I FELT for some of the characters. I felt bad for Arthur because of Guinevere and Lancelot, and them too for their tragedy.

Great Book, worth the praise. Disney movie based on it, “The Sword in the Stone” is also excellent if no book to be had.

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