Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In educating the Wart, as Arthur is called, to understand the world and its moral and ethical values, Merlyn allows the boy to assume the forms of various animals so that he can view life in different social orders. When he becomes a fish and swims in the castle moat, the great pike tells him that “Might is Right,” demonstrating how the most powerful fish can rule the moat. From falcons, he learns about the rigors of military life; from ants, about societies that demand total conformity; from wild geese, about heroism; and from the badger, about the potential greatness of humans. Arthur’s childhood is filled with the wonders of the universe as revealed by Merlyn and with adventures of the sort all boys dream about.
Arthur receives his education with no knowledge that he is being prepared for a throne. Rather, as the mere ward of Sir Ector, he expects to see Ector’s son Kay reap whatever success is to be attained. When word comes that Uther Pendragon, ruler of Gramarye, has died and that his successor is to be the person who can pull a sword out of an anvil, it is as much a surprise to Arthur as it is to Sir Ector and Sir Kay when it is he, the Wart, who accomplishes that feat and becomes king. The tone of Arthur’s rule is foreshadowed by the fact that he performs the deed that puts him on the throne without knowing about how the new king is to be chosen; the boy is merely trying to find a sword for Sir Kay to use in a tournament. Arthur’s...
(The entire section is 1040 words.)
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White's modern retelling of the story of King Arthur and his knights presents the reader with an extremely full range of literary experiences. The Once and Future King contains entertaining comic episodes and moments of the highest tragedy; it deals with profound philosophical issues and, at the same time, offers exciting action. The principal characters—Arthur, Lancelot, Guenever, and Merlyn—are heroic, but White takes care to portray their human flaws as well as their attributes. As a result, they are believable people, with whom readers can identify.
The Once and Future King is an engrossing story and an excellent introduction to one of the most important legends in English literature. The Arthurian legend is often referred to as "the matter of Britain," and many critics consider it—along with the King James Bible and the work of Shakespeare and Milton—one of the four cornerstones of English literature and culture.
White's title, The Once and Future King, is drawn from the epitaph attributed to Arthur's tomb by the medieval English writer Sir Thomas Malory: "And many men say that there is written upon his tomb this verse: Hie iacet Arthurs, rex quodam, rexque futurus" (Here lies Arthur, king once and king to be). White's use of this quotation is appropriate, because he is, in a sense, translating Malory's Morte Darthur for modem readers. Malory wrote in fifteenth- century English, a language that many...
(The entire section is 676 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 1-2 Summary
Arthur, nicknamed the Wart, is the object of torment from his foster-brother Kay. Their governess had to be dismissed when it was discovered that she was mentally unbalanced and spent three years in a lunatic hospital. Sir Ector, Kay’s father and the Wart’s guardian, asks his friend Sir Grummore Grummersum what he should do about their education. Sir Grummore suggests sending them off to school, but Sir Ector points out that there is a giant, Galapas, who lives in the region separating the school and Sir Ector’s castle. Sir Grummore suggests that Sir Ector go on a quest to find a tutor. Sir Ector agrees, but it is now haying time, so any education would have to wait anyway.
The Wart enjoys the work of haying and does it well while Kay struggles with it, much to his chagrin in being outdone in anything by the Wart. Kay is saved by a severe thunderstorm, which soaks both the workers and the hay. Kay thus decides that he will take his goshawk Cully and go hunting. The Wart tags along, though he feels that he could handle the hawk better. They spot a rabbit and Kay sends Cully off for the kill. Instead, the hawk flies up in a tree, allowing the rabbit to escape.
Kay is furious and follows Cully from tree to tree. He finally gives up and leaves (going the wrong way), but the Wart decides he will stay to find the hawk, which is product of much training by Sir Ector’s servant, Hob. He follows Cully to the edge of the forest but does not go further. As the light fades, the Wart sits under a tree, hoping someone will come to find him. He is startled when an arrow zips close to his hand. He runs into the forest, with arrows flying after him. After he escapes from the unseen assailant, he finds that he has gone deep into the forest. He keeps walking, lost, until he comes to a clearing, lit by the moonlight. He sees a knight in shining armor, mounted on a white horse. He startles the knight, who falls off the horse and almost loses his spectacles. The Wart helps him to regain himself. The knight introduces himself as King Pellinore and claims he has been on a quest for seventeen years to find the Questing Beast. Pellinore is bumbling and confused, but the Wart promises him a bed in Sir Ector’s castle if he will help him find his way back. Pellinore agrees eagerly, but all of a sudden the sound of the Questing Beast is heard. Pellinore mounts his horse, unwraps his dog from a tree, and takes off after the Beast.
(The entire section is 457 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 3-4 Summary
The Wart sleeps all night in the forest, not waking up until nine o’clock, long after sunrise. He can hear the insects and reptiles crawling along the forest floor; he also hears an odd metallic clanking. He thinks it is King Pellinore, passing nearby on his chase of the Questing Beast, and follows the noise into a clearing where he espies a rustic stone cottage. In front is a well where an old man is drawing up water, cursing the primitiveness of it, and wishing that he was hooked up to electricity and the water line. The Wart asks him if he knows where Sir Ector’s castle is. The old man immediately recognizes him and calls him by name, though the Wart has never seen him before. The old man introduces himself as Merlyn and invites the Wart into his cottage for breakfast.
The Wart is astonished at the array of displays and inventions, many seemingly futuristic and from another time. Merlyn is dressed as a wizard, with a bird’s nest in his hair. An owl calls out, using human speech. Merlyn introduces the bird as Archimedes and explains that it might take him a while to condescend to speak to the Wart. Not only does the owl speak, but so do the pots. The Wart sees that Merlyn has set the table for two and asks him how he knew that he would be coming. Merlyn explains that he was born at the other end of time and is living backward. This gives the impression that he has second sight; however he is unable to stop what he knows will happen, since he does not know when the event had started. Archimedes eventually greets the Wart and Merlyn announces that the three of them will go to Sir Ector’s castle, where he will become the Wart’s tutor. But first, he orders the dishes to start cleaning themselves. The Wart feels thrilled, believing that he must have been on a quest after all.
The Wart returns to Sir Ector’s castle, accompanied by Merlyn and Archimedes, as well as Cully. Archimedes had found the hawk and guided Merlyn to him. Refusing to use magic, Merlyn set a trap for him. Hop is overjoyed to see Cully and impressed that the Wart stayed out all night in the forest. Sir Ector is also happy to see him and proud that he chose to stay out rather than return without the hawk. The Wart introduces Merlyn as his new tutor. Merlyn performs some magic, but Kay is unimpressed. Merlyn predicts that Kay will come to misfortune through his own mouth.
(The entire section is 443 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 5-6 Summary
Sir Ector’s home is called the Castle of the Forest Sauvage. It serves as a refuge in those troubled times for the people who lived in the surrounding region. Whenever there was an attack, the people crowded into the castle. Among the inhabitants is the Dog Boy, whose nose was bitten off by the outlaw Wat. The Dog Boy keeps special care of the hunting dogs, with whom he sleeps and lives.
After Merlyn had been there a month, he announces to the Wart that it is time for lessons to begin. It is a hot August day, and the Wart does not want to be trapped in a school room. He looks down at the moat and wishes that he could go swimming. He tells Merlyn that he would like to be a fish. Merlyn calls up Neptune, who casts a spell on the Wart. The boy finds himself quickly turning into a fish and falling into the moat. He is soon followed by Merlyn, who has also turned into a fish. The Wart and Merlyn swim around the moat and visit the inhabitants, including a fish that swims upside down. Merlyn fixes her and then takes the Wart to visit the King of the Moat, who is a large pike. The King of the Moat tells the Wart that there is nothing except power, and Might makes Right. The Wart soon finds himself back on the drawbridge, smouldering in his clothes in the summer heat.
One afternoon, the Wart and Kay are shooting arrows for target practice. Merlyn stretches out underneath a tree and immediately falls asleep. Kay gets tired of shooting at targets and suggests that they shoot at a popinjay, which was an artificial bird on a stick. Kay consistently misses the popinjay, and so the Wart proposes that they play “Rovers,” in which they wander around and find something to shoot. When they come close to the forest, Kay decides to hunt some rabbits. After the fifth shot, he is finally lucky and hits one. The Wart is impressed and fetches it to take home. As is their usual tradition on these shooting expeditions, the Wart shoots an arrow up into the air as a parting salute. He watches the arrow fly up and up, glistening gold in the sunlight. He is upset when a crow flies by and snatches the arrow in his beak and flies off. He is angry since this was his best arrow. Kay simply says that it was a witch.
(The entire section is 421 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 7-8 Summary
Merlyn and the Wart watch as Kay practices tilting against a wooden dummy, which swings about when it is hit. The Wart himself still smarts from his own efforts. He confesses to Merlyn that he is upset that he will never be a knight errant because he is not Sir Ector’s son, and he does not have a true father and mother. He will be able to rise only to the level of Kay’s squire. He wishes to go on a quest and see true knights. The knight he most wants to see is King Pellinore. Merlyn tells him to close his eyes while he casts a spell. When the Wart opens his eyes, he finds that he is in the Forest Sauvage. King Pellinore himself is riding up to him. The Wart awkwardly introduces Pellinore to Merlyn. The wizard warns the king that Sir Grummore Grummersum is coming to find him for a joust. The two knights greet each other and then ride toward each other full tilt. Neither is able to best the other man, so they begin to beat each other upon the head. They knock each other out, and Merlyn takes the Wart back to the tilting field where Kay is still practicing with little success.
On one cool, wet August day, the Wart is bored, since no one wants him to do anything for them. Sir Ector tells him that when he was a boy, he focused on his “eddication,” and so suggests that the Wart go find Merlyn. The Wart does so and finds him knitting a night cap. He begs the wizard to turn him into a hawk. Merlyn at first says that the boy is not ready, but eventually relents, warning him not to stand beside Cully. Merlyn accidentally turns himself into a condor, but corrects his error and makes the Wart into a merlin. He carries the bird/boy up to the mews, where the hunting hawks are kept. The Wart can understand the birds’ speech, which is patterned after military officers. The birds accept the Wart as a cadet, but decide that he must undergo an ordeal first. After some thought, they order the Wart to stand by Cully for three rings of their bells. The Wart at first resists, since this is the one thing that Merlyn told him not to do, but he soon agrees. He manages to survive Cully’s verbal abuse and is made a member of the company.
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 9-10 Summary
The Wart wakes up the next morning, tired from his ordeal with the hawks. Kay pesters him to find out where he was all night, but of course Wart can say nothing. The two boys end up in a fight, in which Kay gets a bloody nose and Wart a black eye. Kay complains that Merlyn will do things for Wart but not for him. Wart goes off to the tower to talk to Merlyn. He asks the wizard if he will change Kay into an animal too, but Merlyn refuses. The Wart thinks this is unfair, so Merlyn tells him a story of the prophet Elijah and the Rabbi Jachanan. The two men went on a journey and stopped for the night at the home of a poor man and woman. The couple’s only possession was a cow. They let the two men have their bed while they slept on the floor. In the morning, they find that their cow has died. Elijah and the rabbi next stay at the home of a wealthy merchant, who had them sleep in a shed and gave them only bread and water. In the morning, Elijah repairs a protective wall that surrounded the merchant’s home. The rabbi does not understand why Elijah showed kindness to the miserly merchant, but the poor people lost their only possession, the cow. Elijah explains that the poor man’s wife was destined to die that night, so it was a mercy that the cow died instead. As for the merchant’s wall, there was a treasure of gold hidden there, which the merchant would have found if he repaired the wall himself. Therefore, Elijah’s kindness was in fact a punishment. Merlyn explains that he was sent only to teach Wart, not Kay, but he promises to send the two boys on an adventure that does not require magic.
Wart and Kay follow the path that Merlyn told them to take, soon coming to the forest. They come across an old woodman, who does not respond to them. Going on, they meet a tall man who reveals himself to be Little John. He decides to take them to Robin Wood (or Robin Hood, as Wart misunderstands Little John). They meet Robin and Maid Marian, and Robin tests the boys’ archery skills. He says that he will take them in to his band of Merry Men, since he needs more help to fight against Morgan le Fey, an enchantress. She is the queen of the fairies and has captured Friar Tuck, the outlaw Wat, Sir Ector's Dog Boy, and the dog Cavall, holding them in the Castle Chariot.
(The entire section is 443 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 11-13 Summary
The company is divided up and the Wart is placed in Maid Marian’s group, much to his displeasure in being led by a woman. However, he finds that he has trouble keeping up with her, since she can crawl on all fours and wiggle like a snake. They approach the Castle Chariot, which is guarded by a large griffin. They manage to get past this monster, only to find that the fairies’ castle is made of food. They make their way to Morgan the Fey’s bedchamber and find her asleep on a bed of lard, with the prisoners tied to pillars of pork. Morgan the Fey is an overweight, middle-aged woman, but she may be able to assume a more beautiful form when she is tempting men into her lair. Kay wields an iron knife, since fairies have a hatred of the metal, having come to life before iron was invented. As the company approaches the queen with their knives, she writhes on the bed and the castle begins to shake. Before they can reach her, the castle disappears, and the prisoners are set free.
The griffin, however, is still present. It attacks the company, heading straight for the Wart. Kay shoots it in the eye, killing it as it leaps. It falls on the Wart, breaking his collar bone. As the boys prepare to return home, Kay takes the griffin’s head as his reward. The Wart asks for the liberty of the outlaw Wat, who has been captured by Robin’s band. They return to the castle, where Merlyn heals Wat, who now is a trusted member of the household.
The Wart is confined to bed for three days and thus becomes bored. He begs Merlyn to change him into something, so the wizard transforms the boy into an ant in the Wart’s ant farm. Wart finds himself receiving internal messages to work from some outside source. Everything is either “Done” or “Not Done.” Another ant reports Wart as insane (“Not Done”), but he is given clearance to keep working. He hears announcements that the ant colony is too numerous and is starving. The solution is to become more numerous so that they can starve even more. When they are numerous enough, they can attack other colonies and steal their food. As the ants prepare for war, the Wart is disgusted with their belligerence, likening it to human beings and their obsession with war. Luckily, Merlyn rescues him from the ant farm before the war commences.
(The entire section is 421 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 14-16 Summary
As autumn commences, everyone is involved in the harvest. Sir Ector keeps a close watch on the proceedings, identifying the good workers from the bad. He receives a letter from King Uther Pendragon, who owns the Forest Sauvage even though Sir Ector thinks of it as his. The king is sending his huntsman, William Twyti, to hunt for boars to feed the royal household. Twyti is bringing the king’s hunting dogs, and Uther expects Sir Ector to board and feed the whole party. Sir Ector resents the subservience this implies, feeling that he could just as easily send boars to the king instead of having to feed the hunting party. He thinks about asking Robin Wood to lead Twyti on the hunt, but this would be awkward, since Robin is poaching in the king’s forest.
At Christmas, William Twyti arrives. King Pellinore and Sir Grummore also are guests. Pellinore has been staying with Sir Grummore since their joust in the forest. The Christmas feast is a time of eating and singing, with all the guests taking part in the entertainment. They sing the National Anthem in honor of King Uther and retire for the night, preparing for the hunt the following day.
The Wart gets up the next morning and dresses in the freezing room. At breakfast, King Pellinore claims not to be feeling well, but Sir Grummore assumes it is just nerves. Sir Ector introduces Robin Wood to Twyti, assuring him that there is no connection between Wood and Robin Hood, even though they both wear green. The company rides out into the deep snow and soon comes upon a boar, which charges Sir Grummore. The knight misses a clean shot and is injured. The Wart follows William Twyti. The dogs surround the boar, making it difficult to get a good shot. One dog gives way, giving Twyti a chance. The boar falls over, trapping Twyti’s leg. The boar is quickly killed, and Twyti is removed from the carcass. He sees that one of his dogs, Beaumont, is seriously injured. He comforts it and allows Robin to put it out of its misery. Twyti rises to his feet and blows his hunting horn, but Wart believes that he is crying. Suddenly, King Pellinore takes off and soon returns, telling the others to follow him. Confused, the company does so and finds Pellinore under a gorse bush holding the head of Glatisant, the Questing Beast, which is pining away since Pellinore has given up the chase. Pellinore begs the men to take the Beast back to the castle so that he can be fed and warmed.
(The entire section is 439 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 17-19 Summary
Winter is over and Twyti, Sir Grummore, and King Pellinore depart. The Questing Beast had recovered and left before the snow melted. In the spring, the Wart wants to turn into a bird again, since he did not get a chance to fly. Merlyn suggests that he change form at night, so the other birds will not escape. He and the Wart discuss the nature of bird language with Merlyn’s owl, Archimedes. Merlyn claims that bird language evolved from the cries that the birds’ prey made at the point of death. Archimedes views this theory with doubt. Kay arrives for his lesson, announcing that he has killed a thrush.
The Wart lies awake during the night, waiting for his chance to be a bird. Archimedes arrives and gives him a dead mouse to eat. He does, marveling at how good it tastes, and finds that he is an owl. Archimedes guides him through his first attempts at flying, showing him the finer points of landing and discerning the layout of the ground below by the air temperature rising up. The Wart also discovers that he can see in the dark, as an owl can. He is soon changed to a wild goose. He joins a flock and lands on the lake, watching the sun rise. A female goose tells him it is his turn to stand sentry. Wart does his guard duty, though he is not sure exactly what he is supposed to be watching for. He questions the other goose about geese, whether they join together to fight other geese. This is something that the female cannot fathom. When she tells him that all the geese around him are from different parts of the world, Wart is amazed that there is no fighting among them. The female goose does not understand the concept of national boundaries. Wart tells her that he enjoys fighting because he is a knight. The goose responds that this is because he is a baby.
It seemed that the Wart spent several days and nights among the geese. He learns their habits, but soon senses an odd feeling. The female tells him to wait and see what it means. Soon the flock of geese takes off for their yearly migration, with the Wart joining them. They cross the North Sea, over the islands and water, across Norway, and eventually landing on the first day of their trip to Siberia. The Wart awakens the next morning to Kay’s complaint that he was snoring like a goose.
(The entire section is 422 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 20-21 Summary
Six more years pass. Sir Grummore continues his occasional visits to the castle of Sir Ector, and King Pellinore continues to chase the Questing Beast. Kay prepares to become a full-fledged knight, which brings the resentment of the Wart. He knows that the highest level he will ever reach is to be Kay’s squire. He goes to sit in the kitchen, feeling like Cinderella. Merlyn suddenly appears, and the Wart asks him what will happen during Kay’s knighting ceremony. Merlyn explains that it involves ritual bathing and blessing, as well as a night-long vigil of prayers. The Wart says that if he were made knight, he would do his vigil by himself, praying that God would let him encounter all the evil in the world in his own person, so that if he conquered there would be none left. Merlyn tells him that this is presumptuous, for he would be conquered and made to suffer for it. He asks the boy what he would do if he were not allowed as a knight to stand against all the evil in the world. The Wart replies that he could ask for it. Merlyn replies that he could indeed ask, and he sits by the fire thinking about this.
The Wart resents the fact that Kay no longer lets him hang around, even though he is supposed to be Kay’s squire. Merlyn tells Wart that his education is almost over. Once Kay becomes a knight, the Wart will be a squire and Merlyn will go off on his next duty. He can change the Wart into a creature only one more time, since the magic is almost used up. He decides to turn the Wart into a badger, since that is the most knowledgeable animal he knows except for the owl Archimedes. The Wart changes form and sets off in search of the badger. He encounters a hedgehog and threatens to eat it, but the hedgehog pathetically begs for mercy. The Wart decides to let him go and then sets off to meet the badger. When the Wart explains why Merlyn sent him, the badger invites him in and asks about his interests. The Wart explains that he is mostly interested in natural history, so the badger tells him a story of creation, when God created all the eggs and brought the embryos before him. He made the Man embryo to be the king of all the other embryos, though he would be in embryonic form for as long as he lived.
(The entire section is 423 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 22-24 Summary
King Pellinore arrives for Kay’s knighting ceremony with the news that King Uther Pendragon has died. Sir Ector orders that the banners should be lowered to half-staff. Sir Grummore keeps saying, “The King is dead. Long live the King.” Pellinore wants to know who the king is now, since Uther does not have an heir. He adds that a sword in an anvil on top of a stone has appeared at the church in London, with the words “Whoso Pulleth Out This Sword of This Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of All England” written on it. There is to be a gathering in London for all those who want to try to pull the sword out of the stone. Kay begs his father to let him go to London, but Sir Ector objects that he has never been to the capital city. The Wart and Merlyn arrive and hear the news. The Wart announces that Merlyn is leaving. Sir Ector begs him to stay, assuring him that there is always a need for a wise man around the castle. Merlyn declines and disappears.
Sir Ector, Kay, and the Wart travel through the English countryside to London, amazed by the extensive tournament ground in preparation for all the knights and kings coming to try their hand at pulling the sword from the stone. After arranging lodgings at an inn, Kay and the others go to the tournament. Kay suddenly realizes that he has left his sword at the inn. He commands the Wart (calling him “Squire”) to run to fetch it, offering him a shilling if he is speedy. Though he is irritated by Kay’s condescending tone, the Wart agrees. He finds that the inn is locked, however, and he wonders where he can find or steal a sword. Wandering through the streets of London, he stumbles upon the sword in the stone. He thinks it is some war memorial and decides that no one will mind if he borrows the sword. He touches the sword and feels his senses heighten. He hears music, and his animals friends appear to urge him on. He pulls the sword easily from the stone and takes it to Kay. Recognizing the sword, Kay takes it to Sir Ector and says that it was he who pulled it from the stone. Sir Ector takes him back to the stone and has him swear that this is the truth. Kay sheepishly admits that it was the Wart who pulled the sword. Sir Ector kneels before the Wart and then admits that he is not his father.
After some fuss from the barons, the Wart is crowned king of all England. Merlyn appears to him and says that Uther Pendragon was his father. Merlyn brought the Wart to Sir...
(The entire section is 483 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 1-3 Summary
Fourteen-year-old Gawaine tells a family story to his three younger brothers: Gaheris, Agravaine, and Gareth. Their grandmother, Igraine, was the Countess of Cornwall. She and her husband, the Count, were invited to visit King Uther in London. The king propositioned Igraine, suggesting that she leave her husband and marry him. Igraine tells her husband, and they leave in the middle of the night. Uther makes war on the count and, with the help of Merlyn, manages to get inside the castle where Igraine is hidden. The count is killed and Igraine is forced to marry Uther. For this reason, Gawaine and his brothers are sworn to fight against any member of the Pendragon line, which is why their father, the King of Lot and Orkney, is off fighting against King Arthur. Their mother, Morgause, is casting a spell of invisibility by boiling a cat alive. It is said that a certain cat’s bone will make a person invisible if he holds it in his mouth. Morgause places the bones one by one into her mouth but without effect. She loses interest before she has gone through all the bones.
In Camelot, Arthur enjoys being king. He has just returned from a victorious battle against the King of Lot and Orkney, where the sword Excalibur tipped the scale in his favor. Merlyn warns him against stupidity and has him think about the loss and destruction that his victory cost. He tells him that he needs to start thinking for himself, since it will not be long before Merlyn is tempted by Nimue and trapped in a cave for hundreds of years.
Kay is curious about Queen Morgause. He has heard that she is beautiful, but Merlyn tells him of her background. He tells about the history of the British Isles, how there was one invasion after another, with each invader pushing back the current inhabitants. Before Uther, there were the Saxons, who also pushed out the Gaels. All of them are of Teutonic origin, Merlyn says. Arthur listens as Merlyn tells of Uther’s aggression against the Count of Cornwall, learning that King Lot has a legitimate complaint against Arthur. He wonders if he should abdicate, but Merlyn says that he is the only one who can make that decision. Merlyn says that he himself was one of the Gaels, his mother being Gaelic and his father supposedly being a demon. He denounces the Gaels’ idea of nationalism, so he is almost a traitor to his race, but there is too much bitterness without wars and feuds already.
(The entire section is 428 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 4-6 Summary
Merlyn talks with Arthur and Kay about his philosophy of war. In his youth, he says, it was considered wrong to go to war at all, though he since changed his mind. He believes that it is acceptable to fight a defensive war, but wrong to be the aggressor. Arthur points out that both sides think that they are standing up against aggression. Merlyn speaks of the future, especially comparing war to Victorian foxhunting. In Arthur’s time, the nobility go to war as a hobby, rather than to stand up to injustice. Kay wants to hear about Queen Morgause, but Arthur asks about her husband, King Lot. Merlyn says that Lot is nothing. He is not interested in standing up for the Gaels, since he himself is from Norway. He warns Arthur that his reign may become a series of petty battles.
Gawaine and his brothers go to the cottage of Mother Morlan to hear a story. They find St. Toirdealbhach there also, and the saint tells them the story of the martyrdom of King Conor of Ireland. Afterwards, the boys steal a couple of donkeys to ride down to the port. They see a boat containing three knights and a dog coming toward land. The knights are King Pellinore and Sir Grummore, accompanied by Sir Palomides, a Saracen from Africa. The knights amaze the people of the town, especially the black Palomides. The townsfolk gather around the knights, who are not aware that England and King Arthur are at war with Orkney.
In Carlion, Merlyn helps Arthur prepare for the second campaign against King Lot and the Gaels. Lot has already chosen the place for the battle at Bedegraine. Arthur climbs up the tower to talk to Merlyn. The wizard chides the king for coming to see him, instead of summoning him to his royal chambers. Arthur leaves, waits an hour, and then sends a summons to Merlyn. When the wizard arrives, Arthur orders that the chair should be taken away, since no one may sit in the presence of the king without royal permission, taking Merlyn’s chastisement to a higher level as far as the duties owed to a sovereign. Merlyn is furious, but soon Arthur laughs and sends for chairs. Arthur speaks to the assembled knights and Merlyn of his thoughts on war. Though Merlyn is against warfare, nevertheless he has aided the king in planning two battles. Arthur states his belief that Merlyn’s meaning is that victory at these two battles will aid the king in preventing further warfare. Rather than the philosophy that “Might makes Right,” Arthur wants Might to...
(The entire section is 444 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 7-8 Summary
King Pellinore has fallen in love with the middle-aged daughter of the Queen of Flanders; he had met her while he and the other two knights were hunting the Questing Beast. Leaving the beast to run off through the forest, Pellinore and the others embark on the floating barge they come across, since it is unseemly to refuse an adventure when it presents itself. They are taken north to the Out Isles north of Britain, where they are met by the people of Lot and Orkney. Queen Morgause invites them to hunt the unicorn, with herself as the version that is traditionally used as bait. They agree but are unsuccessful. Gawaine and his brothers decide to catch a unicorn themselves to fetch their mother’s attention. They force the kitchen maid, Meg, to go with them for bait. In the forest, the boys tie Meg to a tree by her braids and hide in the bushes to wait. The unicorn approaches and lays his head on Meg’s lap. Agravaine attacks and kills the unicorn, though Meg and the other boys try to stop him. Meg is untied and runs off, and Gareth follows her, overwhelmed at the horror of what they have done. Agravaine tries to butcher the unicorn but makes a mess of it. He decides to cut off the head and take it back to his mother. By the time they return home, the unicorn head is a mess. The boys try to show Morgause the head, but she just passes them by. That night, when she discovers what they have done, she whips them, not for the tragedy of the death of so beautiful and innocent an animal as the unicorn, but for her unsuccessful day with the knights.
Arthur sits with Merlyn and Kay, planning the battle at Bedegraine. Kay points out that there will be much jealousy on the part of the knights, so Arthur suggests having a round table, with no position of precedence. When Kay objects that there would be fifty yards of wood in the middle, Arthur says that it will be a circular table, with space in the middle for servants. Each knight will have his own chair with his name magically written on it by Merlyn. Kay also suggests that there will be feasts on holy days, at which the knights will relate their adventures. Merlyn says that King Leodegrance has such a table, which is convenient since Arthur will eventually marry his daughter Guinevere. Arthur does not like hearing about the future, since it confuses him. He tells Merlyn that he has thought of a good reason to start a war, that if a man comes up with a good way for people to live but the people...
(The entire section is 515 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 9-10 Summary
As a result of Queen Morgause’s suggestion of a unicorn hunt, King Pellinore becomes even more lovesick than before. Sir Palomides suggests that the only way to dispel Pellinore’s melancholy is to continue the hunt for the Questing Beast, but Sir Grummore states his belief that the beast is dead. Sir Palomides has the idea that he and Sir Grummore should dress up as the beast, and he and Sir Palomides begin to plan. With much argument, the two friends stitch together the costume and practice moving around in it, with Sir Grummore making the sounds, even though he is the rear end.
In the meantime, Queen Morgause changes her mind about the three knights and loses interest in them. In fact, she thinks them contemptible. She decides that her only interest is in her sons, and she becomes the picture of the loving mother. Gareth runs to tell his brothers of the change in their mother. He finds them arguing about the rightness of the queen’s treatment of the knights. Agravaine wants to pen a letter to their father about what is happening while he is away, but the others thinks this would be traitorous. It descends into a fight, with Agravaine’s threatening Gawaine with a knife. Gareth and Gaheris hold him down to prevent him from killing Gawaine.
Sir Palomides and Sir Grummore tell King Pellinore that they have seen the Questing Beast, but the king has lost interest and tells his friends to go away and leave him alone. They decide to ambush him with the beast in the night. King Pellinore stands on the edge of the cliff with his dog, though it is now raining. He decides that, although it is unpleasant, at least it will make his friends happy. He stands thinking about the Queen of Flanders’s daughter, who is called Piggy.
Sir Palomides and Sir Grummore wait in their costume for the rain to stop. They hear a breathing, but it is not either of them. Sir Grummore feels something bumping up against him, but it is not Sir Palomides. As the moon comes out, Sir Palomides looks out of the mouth of the costume and tells Sir Grummore to run, seeing the real Questing Beast approaching.
In Arthur’s tent on the eve of the battle, Merlyn appears worried. The wizard assures the king that he will win this battle. Merlyn is worried about some warning that he is not sure he gave Arthur, but he does not know if it was about the future or the past. He tells him a parable of a man who has an appointment with death and...
(The entire section is 474 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 11-12 Summary
Queen Morgause stays in her chamber, refusing all communication with her guests. King Pellinore misses his friends, but suddenly he hears shouting in the distance—someone calling his name. He finds Sir Palomides and Sir Grummore at the cliff’s edge, in a crevice, dressed in their beast costume. He sees that Glatisant, the Questing Beast, is also there. King Pellinore greets the beast and asks Sir Grummore why he is dressed as an animal. Sir Grummore begs the king to kill the beast that he has been chasing for eighteen years, but Pellinore refuses. Sir Palomides fears that the beast has fallen in love with the two men in the costume. Pellinore suggests that they flirt with Glatisant and lead her to the castle. He takes the beast by the tail, but Glatisant bites him. Sir Palomides and Sir Grummore manage to tempt the beast to follow them to the castle. When they reach the castle, they notice that King Pellinore is no longer with them. Looking back, they see the king walking toward them with his arm around a stout, middle-aged lady. Pellinore announces that it is the Queen of Flanders’s daughter, who has followed the Questing Beast to Orkney to find him. He says that, though he wrote many letters to her which remain unanswered, he had forgotten to put his return address on them, so she had no idea where he was.
The Questing Beast has started to besiege the castle, which reminds King Pellinore that she bit him. He shows his friends his wound, which the Queen of Flanders’s daughter had bound up for him with her petticoats. The Old Ones in the castle are trying to fend off the beast by throwing stones at her, but she promptly swallows the missiles. The Queen of Flanders’s orders the beast off as the others hurry into the safety of the castle. However, Glatisant intends to keep the castle under siege until her “mate” appears. Sir Toirdealbhach appears to announce his impending marriage to old Mother Morlan.
King Arthur begins the battle of Bedegraine at night, using “ungentlemanly” tactics, which surprise his opponents. Arthur’s actions are an atrocity in the eyes of King Lot and his soldiers, and they are unable to withstand the assault. Arthur quickly gains the victory the following day. Merlyn arrives, dressed as a common soldier of the infantry. He gives Arthur the news that the clans on foot have surrendered.
(The entire section is 412 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 13-14 Summary
King Pellinore and his fiancée, Piggy, the daughter of the Queen of Flanders, are sitting on the cliff top in the moonlight. They will soon set off for England to be married. They discuss the names of their future children. They are interrupted by the shouting of Sir Grummore and Sir Palomides, who are trying to convince the Questing Beast to stop her siege of the castle. Pellinore has refused to allow her to be killed.
Merlyn arrives prepared for a walking tour, which will lead to his encounter with Nimue and his imprisonment in the cave for centuries. Sir Grummore and Sir Palomides ask the wizard to do something about the Questing Beast, because she is still in love with her “mate” and waiting for him to come out of the castle. Merlyn suggests that they explain the situation to her, but they doubt that she will listen to them. They ask Merlyn to explain, but he is off to North Humberland to meet with his master Bleise, so that he can write down the details of the battle. He suggests that they psychoanalyze her, asking her about her dreams and explaining the facts of life to her, and then he leaves. Sir Grummore and Sir Palomides take his suggestion, and begin to tell the beast about the birds and the bees.
King Lot and Queen Morgause are in bed in their castle, but the queen is wide awake. She has learned about King Arthur, of his splendor and charm. There is a rumor that he is having an affair with a girl called Lionore, who is the daughter of the Earl of Sanam. The queen opens a coffer and removes a Spancel, which is a long ribbon sliced from a human body. If a woman winds this ribbon around a man as he sleeps and he awakens, the man will die within a year. If he does not wake, he will fall in love with the woman. Queen Morgause takes the Spancel, along with her four children, to the wedding of Piggy and King Pellinore.
The Questing Beast at last decides to switch her affections to Sir Palomides and ends her siege of the castle in time for the wedding party to leave for Carlion. King Pellinore is married to Piggy in the presence of King Arthur. In the north, Merlyn awakens out of a sound sleep, remembering that he forgot to tell Arthur that his mother was Igraine, the mother also of Queen Morgause. In Carlion, Arthur awakens to find Morgause herself standing over him, folding the Spancel. Nine months later, Morgause gives birth to a baby by her half-brother, Arthur. She names him Mordred, and he will be...
(The entire section is 458 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 1-2 Summary
Fifteen-year-old Lancelot pauses in his exercise of lifting hand weights and looks at his reflection in a metal helmet. He has returned to France from England, where his father, King Ban of Benwick, has been helping King Arthur in putting down the rebellion. While he was there, Lancelot exceeded in the games at the wedding feast of King Pellinore, drawing the attention of Arthur. Likewise impressed by Arthur’s prowess and nobility, Lancelot has fallen in love with the king. As Lancelot was leaving England, Arthur asks him if he will consider being one of his knights of the Round Table in a new Order of Chivalry, fighting against Might and aggression. Lancelot tells him that this is what he is training to do in France in a group called the Fort Mayne (Strong Arm), so he will be glad to aid Arthur in his quest. Looking at himself in the shining metal, Lancelot decides that he is ugly, one of many facets of himself in which he feels inadequate. He thinks that, when he is a knight, he will not call himself “Sir Lancelot,” but the “Chevalier Mal Fet”—the Ill-made Knight.
Lancelot ends up being the greatest knight of King Arthur’s Round Table. Like a great cricket player, a tournament has a scorekeeper, a ground to walk around in their best dress, and the sportsmen who have their innings, even though Lancelot’s innings sometimes lasted a full day, if he were fighting against a good knight. The action is slower, however, because of the great weight of the knight’s armor.
Lancelot spends three years in the Armoury of the castle of Benwick, where the weapons and armor are kept. Uncle Dap is the royal Armourer, looking after the weapons, though he occasionally finds food stored there instead. For three years, Lancelot lives in the Armoury and in his dreams of being a great knight for the king he adores. With Uncle Dap’s assistance, Lancelot practices the moves he needs as a soldier of the king, exercising with arms and weights. The other boys of the castle do not pay him much attention, since they have other things to think about. They view Lancelot as one who lives an obscure and mystic life. He thinks of the best ways to fight, including a few tricks. He wants to do more than just gain the skills of weaponry to prove his worth. He would like to perform some kind of miracle.
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 3-5 Summary
Uncle Dap’s name is Gwenbors, and he is the brother of Lancelot’s father. He serves as Lancelot’s mentor, as Merlyn is Arthur’s and St. Toirdealbhach is Gawaine’s. As Lancelot is working with Uncle Dap in the Armoury, a page arrives with the message the Queen Elaine, Lancelot’s mother, wishes to see him. Present with the queen are Merlyn and Nimue, whom the wizard has fallen in love with at last. Elaine tells Merlyn that Lancelot’s first name was Galahad, but this was changed at his confirmation. Merlyn tells Lancelot that he will become the greatest knight in the world, and he will get the hope of his heart thirty years in the future, when he is forty-eight. King Arthur is now married to Guenever, whose father, King Leodegrance, gave Arthur the Round Table, as well as a hundred knights to sit around it. Gawaine is now one of them, and Lancelot is invited to join. Meanwhile, Merlyn and Nimue leave for Cornwall, where Merlyn is doomed to be imprisoned in a magic cave. Lancelot tells Uncle Dap that he is leaving for England that night, and Uncle Dap goes with him.
As Lancelot approaches Camelot, he becomes more jealous of Guenever for coming between himself and his hero, King Arthur. A black knight stands in the path of Lancelot and Uncle Dap. Lancelot jousts with him and wins only to find that it is Arthur himself in the black suit of armor. Arthur is not angry at being bested by his newest knight. He introduces Lancelot to Guenever and asks her to be kind to him. Lancelot reacts coldly to her, but Guenever is helpful as requested by the king. When Lancelot sees that he has genuinely hurt Guenever’s feelings, his thoughts about her change. The two of them will soon fall in love with each other.
Uncle Dap is furious with his nephew for having an affair with a married woman. Lancelot threatens to send him back to Benwick. Arthur decides that he will take Lancelot with him when he goes to the Roman war, in order to separate them. Lucius, the Dictator of Rome, has demanded a tribute from Arthur, who refuses to give one. He and other kings march on Rome. Lucius, along with many other kings, is killed. Arthur sends the bodies of the kings, along with those of many senators, to Rome in place of a tribute. On the way back to England, Arthur becomes such good friends with Lancelot that he forgets about Merlyn’s prophecy that his greatest friend would take away his wife.
(The entire section is 439 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 6-7 Summary
Lancelot was, in essence, a cruel man; therefore, he took great pains to prevent his cruelty from being put in practice. He never killed a man who asked for mercy, and he never committed a cruel action that he could have prevented. Therefore, he was a man of honor, who performed what he promised.
When he and Arthur landed in England after returning from the Roman wars, they were met at the beach by Queen Guenever. When he sees Arthur kissing the queen, Lancelot’s insides twist and he immediately goes to a nearby inn to be alone. In the morning, Lancelot asks Arthur to send him on a quest. The king objects, wanting Lancelot to stay with him and the queen for a while. Lancelot becomes irate, stating that the whole purpose of the knights of the Round Table was to go on quests. Arthur calms him down and promises to send him on a quest.
Now, we are introduced to two knights by the names of Sir Carados and Sir Turquine, who do not believe in any form of government but the rule by force. Lancelot comes across Sir Carados, who has captured Sir Gawaine and holds him hostage. Lancelot fights and kills Sir Carados and releases Gawaine. He then joins his cousin Lionel to continue on his quest. While Lancelot sleeps, Lionel is captured by Sir Turquine, who we find out is Sir Carados’s brother. While Lancelot is still asleep, Queen Morgan le Fay, accompanied by three other witches, visits him and casts a spell on him. He is carried to the Castle Chariot where he is imprisoned. When he wakes, a damsel asks him to help her father, King Bagdemagus, who has been challenged to a tournament by the evil king Northgalis. She asks him to help her father in exchange for her help in rescuing him from imprisonment by Morgan le Fay.
At his release, Lancelot promises the damsel his help and rides off. He comes across a deserted pavilion. Tired, he lies down to sleep but is roused when a man sits on his foot. The two knights fight, and Lancelot seriously wounds the other. Realizing that neither one knows what they are fighting for, they become friends; Lancelot later invites the knight, whose name is Belleus, to join him at Arthur’s court.
Lancelot traces the location of Lionel at Turquine’s castle with the help of the damsel. Lancelot and Turquine fight for two hours until Turquine decides he will give the impressive knight mercy and release all his prisoners, unless he is Sir Lancelot. Lancelot readily reveals his...
(The entire section is 464 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 8-10 Summary
Sir Lancelot comes upon a damsel who begs him to rescue her hunting falcon from a tree. She tells Lancelot that if she comes home without the falcon, her abusive husband will kill her. Reluctantly, Lancelot takes off his armor and captures the falcon. As he is climbing down, the woman’s husband arrives to fight Lancelot, telling him that his wife played a trick on the knight to get him to take off his armor. Lancelot quickly takes the husband’s sword and kills him, telling the damsel that he is not sorry that her husband was killed.
As Lancelot continues along, he spots a woman being chased by a knight. The knight says that the woman is his adulterous wife and he plans to kill her. When Lancelot objects to the killing of a woman for whatever reason, the knight distracts Lancelot’s attention and cuts off his wife’s head. Enraged, Lancelot demands that the knight fight him, but the knight begs for mercy. Disgusted, Lancelot orders him to leave.
At the end of the year, all of the people involved in Lancelot’s quest arrive at Camelot to give witness to the noble knight’s adventures. They present themselves, not to the king, but to Queen Guenever. Despite his voluntary exile, Lancelot has been thinking of his lady the entire time.
Guenever finds that she is in love with both King Arthur and Sir Lancelot. She is overwhelmed at the steady stream of prisoners that come to present themselves to her from the knight. She pardons all of them. Lancelot himself then arrives at court. He approaches King Arthur and kisses his hand. Arthur thanks him for the prisoners on the queen’s behalf, as well as the three counties that have been safely added to the kingdom because of Lancelot’s deeds. Guenever chides Arthur for his seeming love of warfare, for he has long held that war is wrong. Arthur does feel guilty that he has striven for a kingdom of peace and as a result finds himself swimming in blood. He feels unsettled about the knights from Orkney, the sons of Morgause, who are having numerous affairs now that King Lot has been killed. Arthur warns Lancelot that he may have trouble with Gawaine.
Uncle Dap helps Lancelot repair his accoutrements on his return. Lancelot in despair asks his uncle if Guenever loves him. Uncle Dap advises him to ask the lady himself. Lancelot is bound by his beliefs as a Christian. Though he and the queen may be in love with each other, Lancelot cannot make love to her or...
(The entire section is 452 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 11-13 Summary
Sir Lancelot stays at court for several weeks, but his struggles with keeping himself pure become overwhelming. He considers going on another quest, but he does not want to go, nor does the king wish him to leave. The queen, however, thinks it is best that he go. He rides off to find out about the slightly mad King Pelles of Corbin. As he arrives in the village below the castle, the people greet him as one long expected. They ask him to rescue the damsel in the nearby tower, who has been magically kept in boiling water for five years by Morgan le Fey. Lancelot initially resists, but he soon gives in. He is shown up to the tower and enters the room where a naked damsel is trapped in a boiling bath. He takes her hand and lifts her out. She is dressed by her ladies, and Lancelot realizes that he has at last performed the long hoped-for miracle. King Pelles approaches and thanks him for rescuing his daughter, whose name is Elaine. He invites Lancelot to stay in his castle and tells him about his other fortress at Carbonek, where the Holy Grail is housed.
Lancelot stays several days with King Pelles, who claims to be a cousin of Joseph of Arimathea and thus related to Jesus. Lancelot soon becomes morose over Guenever. The butler urges him to sample some wine and soon Lancelot is drunk. A messenger comes with a note for Lancelot: Guenever is waiting for him in a nearby castle. Lancelot goes out into the night to find her. The next morning, he finds himself in bed with Elaine. He is furious with her for tricking him and stealing his virginity, which is what has kept him strong and allowed him to perform his first and last miracle. Elaine says that if she has Lancelot’s baby, she will name him Galahad, after Lancelot’s real first name. Lancelot says that the baby will be hers, but he never wants to see her again.
Guenever sits doing needlework, which she hates, wishing that Lancelot would return. She does not have a knowledge of the world, which will come when she is middle-aged. She only desires Lancelot. Almost as if by magic, Lancelot returns. He had left Elaine immediately and started back to Camelot. In his mind, it was Guenever whom he slept with the other night, though he now knows the truth of the situation. His life is now a lie, he reasons, so he might as well make it a lie in earnest. He goes to Guenever, and they consummate their love.
(The entire section is 439 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 14-16 Summary
King Arthur receives a letter from King Ban of Benwick, Lancelot’s father. He is being attacked by King Claudas and requests assistance. Arthur feels obligated to go to his aid, since Ban was his ally at the Battle of Bedegraine. He asks Lancelot if he wants to go as well. Lancelot yields to whatever the king wants him to do, though privately he yearns to remain in England with Guenever. Arthur asks him to stay and deal with the factions that still cause trouble. Lancelot agrees, and he and Guenever have a year together. Lancelot fears getting discovered, and Guenever catches this fear from him. They sometimes quarrel, especially when Lancelot feels that he is being treated like a possession. He tells the queen of his childhood, when he hated himself. One time he lied to his brother and in remorse stuck his arm in some stinging nettles. However, he was not stung, so he feels that perhaps this was a miracle. Guenever suggests that they end their affair so that he can perform miracles once again, but Lancelot tells her that she is his miracle.
Arthur returns after defeating King Claudas, and he is soon met by King Bors, Lancelot’s cousin, who has been at Corbin. He tells the news that King Pelles’ daughter Elaine has given birth to a son and named him Galahad. Guenever confronts Lancelot when she hears about this, discerning that Elaine is the miracle that he told her about. Lancelot tells her the story of his being tricked, but Guenever does not believe it. She calls him a seducer and a liar. Eventually, the two lovers make up, but the first seeds of doubt have been planted.
Elaine prepares to go to Camelot with the baby Galahad to show him to his father, Lancelot. She plans to take Lancelot away from Guenever somehow. At court, the news of her intended arrival is discussed. Arthur knows in his heart that Guenever and Lancelot are lovers, but he cannot bring himself to admit it. He hopes that, if he remains unconscious of it, the matter will end itself. He confronts Lancelot in the garden to discuss the knight's recent sadness. Lancelot almost confesses his sin to the king, but says that his malaise has to do with Elaine and the baby. Arthur asks if it is possible for Lancelot to marry Elaine, but Lancelot replies that he does not love her. Lancelot and Guenever also discuss Elaine. The queen tells him that they cannot be together while Elaine is present at Camelot. Lancelot decides to see if he can love Elaine enough...
(The entire section is 448 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 17-20 Summary
Elaine arrives at Camelot, carrying Galahad and accompanied by her nurse, Brisen. Guenever greets her with mock warmth and kindness, telling her that Lancelot will be delighted to see her and that she should not be shy about the baby, since everyone already knows. Guenever almost looks at the baby to see if it resembles Lancelot but decides against it.
When Elaine is settled, Guenever goes to Lancelot’s room, no longer with a kind manner. She warns him against sleeping with Elaine while she is at the castle, though Lancelot assures her that he has no intention of doing so. She ignores this and tells him that she has placed Elaine next to her room, so she will know if Lancelot goes to her. She also tells him that she will visit his room later; if he is not there, then she will know that he is with Elaine.
In her room, Elaine is sad because Lancelot did not greet her. No sooner has she begun to weep than Lancelot knocks on the door. Reluctantly, he looks at the baby and is relieved to see that it resembles Elaine, not he. He wonders if this small creature could be part of him. Elaine tries to throw herself into Lancelot’s arms, but he pushes her away and leaves the room.
That night, Lancelot is overjoyed when Guenever sends for him, for she had planned that the two of them should not make love while Elaine is at Camelot. The next morning, however, Guenever calls both Lancelot and Elaine into her chambers. She accuses them both of sleeping together the previous night and orders them out of the castle. Lancelot objects that he was with her, not Elaine. Elaine admits that, once again, Brisen helped her deceive Lancelot into thinking that he was sleeping with the queen. Guenever does not believe this, thinking that Lancelot is using the same “lie” that he used before. Driven mad, Lancelot jumps out the castle window and runs away. Elaine accuses Guenever of driving him mad. She leaves, and Guenever breaks down in sobs.
Two years later, King Pelles and Sir Bliant discuss tales of the Wild Man who is roaming the countryside. Sir Bliant says that he had an encounter with the man and kept him imprisoned for some time; eventually he escaped when he saw the evil knight Sir Bruce Saunce Pité approach. Later, King Pelles himself catches the man and chains him up. One evening, when he was drunk, the King had the Wild Man brought out; he asks him whether he was Lancelot. The Wild Man says nothing. Pelles...
(The entire section is 471 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 21-23 Summary
Elaine has hidden away her love for Lancelot and has decided to take the veil and become a nun. As a novice, she is living in her father’s castle with Galahad, who is now three years old, before she joins the convent. One of the maids runs to her to tell her that a man is sleeping by the well in the garden. Elaine is surprised by this, since it is January. She approaches the man, who is dressed in knightly robes and immediately recognizes him as Lancelot. She weeps, but only for the obvious trials he has been through. She tells her father of Lancelot’s presence, but her father insists that Lancelot is dead, killed by a boar. Elaine thus brings Lancelot before him, and King Pelles orders that the knight be carried up to a tower room and placed on a feather bed, with an orchestra playing, as is suggested for someone who is mad. When Lancelot awakens, he wants to know how he arrived there. Elaine tells him that he arrived like a madman and now must rest. Lancelot’s only concern is if many people saw him when he was mad.
As Lancelot recovers, Elaine restrains herself from being constantly at his side. They discuss their future, since Lancelot cannot go back to court. Elaine suggests that they live together in a castle her father would give them. Lancelot once again says that he does not love her, so he cannot marry her. However, he is very fond of her, in spite of how she tricked him twice and ruined his relationship with Guenever. She says that she would be happy just having him near, even though they could not be man and wife. He agrees, and they move into the castle, where Lancelot takes the name Chevalier Mal Fet, the Ill-made Knight. This could also mean the Knight Who Has Done Wrong, or even the Knight Who Is Cursed. Elaine encourages Lancelot to pursue his hobbies and to host tournaments, if he so chooses.
Elaine arranges a tournament for Lancelot. Many knights come to fight against the unknown man of Bliant Castle, but Lancelot defeats them all without saying a word. In the evenings, Lancelot goes off to a high point of the castle and looks off toward Camelot. One day, two knights come to the castle, saying that they want to joust with the Chevalier Mal Fet. Lancelot goes out and discovers that one of the knights is his brother, Sir Ector Demaris. Sir Ector tells him that Guenever has sent out knights to search for him. Lancelot invites them into the Castle Bliant.
(The entire section is 442 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 24-26 Summary
Lancelot tells his brother, Sir Ector Demaris, that he cannot leave Elaine. Sir Ector says that once it becomes known that Lancelot is alive and here, no one will leave him alone: he will be trapped in the castle. Queen Guenever has spent a great deal of money, men, and time to locate him, but Lancelot says that Guenever told him never to come back. Sir Ector asks his brother if he loves Elaine and Lancelot says that he does. Elaine begs him to promise that, if he should leave, he will come back some day. Lancelot insists that he has no plans to leave. At dinner, a messenger arrives with the news that there is a squire outside who will talk to no one but Lancelot. Going outside, Lancelot discovers that it is his Uncle Dap, carrying all his armor and accoutrements. Lancelot puts on his armor, mounts his horse, and rides off to Camelot.
Fifteen years pass after Lancelot returns to Guenever at Camelot, and things return to what they had been before his “Wild Man” years. Lancelot and Guenever resume their affair, and Arthur resumes his pretense of being unaware of it. Through battle and conquest, Arthur’s kingdom grows and peace spreads across the land. The giants and dragons have been conquered. Arthur’s Camelot becomes the center of honor and culture. A new generation of knights makes their way to Arthur’s court, eager to be one of the company of the Round Table. One of the knights is Gareth, Gawaine’s brother. Another is Mordred, Arthur’s son by his half-sister Morgause.
Lancelot and Arthur discuss Gareth, who has arrived incognito and serves in the kitchen. Though Kay had tormented him, Lancelot had been kind and helped him on his adventure, afterward knighting him. They wonder how Gareth's mother, Morgause, felt about his leaving, but Lancelot says that the old queen is chasing Lamorak, King Pellinore’s son, even though he is a youth and she is a grandmother. Arthur now worries about the Round Table. Something is going wrong, he feels. Lancelot reflects on Mordred, whom he instinctively dislikes, not knowing that Arthur is his father. Then, Gareth arrives with the news that his mother was killed by her son Agravaine when she was found naked in bed with Lamorak. He chopped off her head and then went after Lamorak. Eventually, Agravaine finds King Pellinore’s son, and Mordred stabs him in the back.
(The entire section is 411 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 27-29 Summary
Gawaine and Mordred arrive at Camelot to beg for mercy for killing their mother and Lamorak. Gawaine comes with some sense of shame, but Mordred has no regret. Both Gawaine and Mordred bow before King Arthur and ask for pardon. Arthur quickly gives it and tells them to go away. Lancelot and Guenever silently wonder that the king seems willing to forgive matricide, an act that could destroy the foundations of the Round Table.
Arthur returns to his previous conversation about the purpose of the Round Table. He had originally founded it as a way to use Might for Right, but now all the giants, dragons, and evil knights are gone, so there is no channel for that Might. It is because of this that the knights are beginning to fall into shameful battles, such as this with Gawaine and Mordred. He decides he wants to use Might, not for an earthly battle, but for a spiritual one. He wants the knights to fight for God, not for the rights of men. Lancelot suggests that they quest for the Holy Grail. At this moment, a messenger arrives to tell Lancelot that his Uncle Dap has a young man who seeks Lancelot to make him a knight. The young man’s name is Galahad. Lancelot leaves, while Guenever is conscious that her lover is going to his son by another woman.
For the next two years, the Knights of the Round Table set off on their quests for the Holy Grail. Many die, and many disappear. Sir Gawaine returns to Camelot and tells King Arthur and Queen Guenever of his adventures. He encountered Sir Galahad many times, and Lancelot’s son has taken on an almost holy persona. Sir Gawaine unknowingly kills his own cousin, Sir Uwaine. He returns home after having been severely wounded.
Sir Lionel, a cousin of Sir Lancelot, is the next to arrive at Camelot. He is served by King Arthur and Queen Guenever, who want to hear of his quest. Sir Lionel tells of his struggles against his brother, Sir Bors, who is a pious but difficult man. On his quest, Bors was begged to give up his righteousness or cause the death of someone. Bors refused, so many people died. Sir Lionel planned to kill Sir Bors, but a hermit interceded. Lionel killed the hermit and prepared to go after his brother. Another man, Sir Colgrevance of Gore, berated Lionel for what he had done. Lionel took after Sir Colgrevance, who begged Sir Bors to stop him. Lionel killed Sir Colgrevance and then turned to kill Bors. Suddenly, the sun came out, and the two brothers laughed and...
(The entire section is 457 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 30-32 Summary
The next knight to arrive at Camelot is Sir Aglovale, the son of King Pellinore and his wife Piggy. He is in mourning for the death of his father, who was killed by the Orkney brothers for killing their mother, though the brothers also killed Aglovale’s brother Lamorak for sleeping with their mother. Aglovale is a young man bent on revenge, as is his right he believes. Arthur begs him to rethink the whole topic of revenge, which never comes to an end. Aglovale tells Arthur and Guenever that his mother died from grief, not long after his father. He tells of the adventures of Sir Percivale, his brother, who is as pious and pure as Sir Galahad. Aglovale’s sister had become a nun, cutting off her hair and saving it in a box. She joins Galahad, Percivale, and Sir Bors on a boat, where they find the sword of King David, which is given to Galahad, and two lesser swords for the other two knights. With spindles she finds on the boat, Aglovale’s sister spins a girdle out of her own hair. They sail to Carlisle, where they encounter a woman whose disease can be cured only by the blood of a maid of royal ancestry. Aglovale’s sister offers her blood, but she dies in the process. She is put in the boat, along with a letter explaining what happened, and set out into the ocean. Aglovale asks Arthur to invite the Orkney brothers to have dinner with him the following day.
The other knights continue to trickle back in to Camelot. The older knights, such as Sir Ector and Sir Grummore, survive, but the list of the dead continues to grow. It is rumored that Lancelot is among the dead, the victim of a fight with his son, Sir Galahad. But one day Lancelot comes home in a rainstorm. He is clad in scarlet and white, but underneath he wears a hair shirt. He goes straight to bed, tended to by Uncle Dap, who delivers a message to the king: The Grail has been found by Galahad, Percivale, and Bors, but it is being taken to Sarras in Babylon, along with the body of Percivale’s sister, because it can never be brought to Camelot. Bors would be coming home eventually, but the others would never return.
The next day, Lancelot tells Arthur and Guenever of his adventure. He had jousted with Galahad and been knocked down. As he lay there, a woman approached and said, “God be with thee, the best knight in the world.” Lancelot looked up to see who was talking to him but discovered that she was talking to Galahad. Lancelot then went to a chapel to...
(The entire section is 529 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 33-36 Summary
Lancelot continues the tale of his quest. One day, he was by the seaside when a boat approached. He boarded and found anything he could wish for. The boat carried him away, and he discovered that on the barge there was the body of a dead woman, holding a letter. He is not disturbed at the thought of being on a boat with a corpse. Galahad approaches him and as they travel, the father and son get to know each other. The boat lands at a forested cove, where Galahad leaves to go on his quest for the Holy Grail. The boat takes Lancelot to the Castle Carbonek. He approaches, knowing that he will at least get to see the Holy Grail. The doors open onto a chapel where Galahad, Percivale, Bors, and Percivale’s sister, now alive, are serving at the table of the Holy Grail. Also present is someone who may be Joseph of Arimathea. A sword blocks the doorway, and when Lancelot tries to enter, a blast of heat knocks him down and he remembers nothing more.
Guenever meanwhile sits in her bath, washing off the makeup that she wore to try to impress Lancelot. She is convinced that he will come back to her, despite his new “holiness.” He explains to her that they cannot be lovers now, because of his encounter with the Holy Grail. Also, it was because of their sin that he was barred from touching the Grail. Agravaine and Mordred are watching them both, hoping for a chance to betray them to the king, but this is something that Lancelot does not want to happen, knowing how hurt King Arthur would be.
Guenever waits, and waits, but a year goes by, and Lancelot still will not come to her bed. She becomes angry at his holiness, which she sees as selfishness. One day, while they play musical instruments alone, she tells him that he must leave. She thinks it would be better if he would go on a quest for a month or two. He agrees, packs his things, and leaves.
With Lancelot gone, Guenever becomes even more unpopular. An attempt to murder Gawaine fails when another knight eats a poisoned apple meant for him. Another knight, Sir Mador de la Porte, accuses the queen of treason. Trial by combat is decreed, but no one will volunteer to be Guenever’s champion. The night before the battle, Arthur cries out to Guenever, demanding to know why she cannot keep Sir Lancelot by her side.
(The entire section is 422 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 37-40 Summary
Sir Bors, despite his hatred of women, presents himself as the queen’s champion against Sir Mador and his accusation of treason. A jousting ground is set up near Westminster, complete with a pavilion of King Arthur. The crowd gathers on the day of the battle. Sir Mador waits for the entrance of Sir Bors. At last, a knight bearing Sir Bors’s insignia enters the list. The two knights do battle, with Sir Mador being knocked off his horse. After a thrust of the sword into his thigh, Sir Mador admits defeat and takes back his accusation. The victorious knight approaches the king (and the queen, who has been released) and takes off his helmet to reveal himself to be Lancelot. Sir Bors had gone to the abbey where Lancelot was staying and convinced him to fight for Guenever’s honor. It is not out of a love for Guenever that Lancelot decides to fight, but rather for his love for God. Arthur and Guenever both bow before Lancelot.
In celebration of Guenever’s acquittal, Arthur plans a tournament near Corbin where Elaine, the mother of Galahad, lives. Guenever asks Lancelot if he is going and then commands that he not go. Lancelot says that he will claim that he is still recovering from a wound he received in the battle with Sir Mador. At the last moment, Guenever commands him to go, but he objects that he would be dishonored now to show up after claiming to be wounded. Guenever does not care but orders him to the tournament. Lancelot decides he must visit Elaine, since he had promised her he would return someday. He meets her on the battlements of her castle and she assumes that he will now stay for good.
Lancelot disguises himself at the Corbin tournament. Elaine asks him to wear her token, a sleeve embroidered with pearls. Since Lancelot never wears tokens, he agrees, thinking this will serve him in his disguise. He performs well until three knights overwhelm him, giving him a spear wound in his side. He rides off in solitude, and Elaine is called to help him. She speaks of his staying with her forever, and he tells her that they need to talk.
After Lancelot tells Elaine that he is not staying, he returns to Camelot where Guenever is furious with him. She accuses him of becoming Elaine’s lover once again. The situation changes when Elaine’s body comes floating down the river in a boat. In her weakness and grief, she took her own life. Guenever turns on Lancelot, saying that he should have been kinder to...
(The entire section is 441 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 41-45 Summary
After Elaine’s suicide, life at Camelot goes on. Lancelot continues to fight in tournaments, but now Arthur has set himself against Lancelot in these games. It is almost as if King Arthur is hoping that Lancelot will kill him, freeing Guenever to marry her lover. Another knight comes to court by the name of Sir Meliagrance; he has also fallen in love with the queen. One May Day, when Guenever is out picking flowers without her usual body guards but only ten knights in civilian clothes, Sir Meliagrance kidnaps her. She begs him to carry her wounded knights with them to the castle. The queen manages to get a boy to take a message to Lancelot.
In Sir Meliagrance’s castle, Guenever tends to the wounds of her knights. Soon a maid says that there comes a horse drawing a cart in which lies a knight. Guenever sees that it is Lancelot, though his horse has been mortally wounded. Sir Meliagrance, fearing fatal retribution from Lancelot, surrenders. Guenever asks Lancelot to be merciful to her kidnapper. She and Lancelot once again fall in love, just as they had some twenty years previously. Sir Meliagrance invites her to stay in his castle.
Sir Lancelot climbs up to the tower where Guenever is sleeping. He climbs in, cutting his hand as he does so. They spend the night together after many years apart. The next morning, Sir Meliagrance enters Guenever’s room and sees the blood from Lancelot’s wounded hand on the sheets. He accuses the queen of sleeping with one of her wounded knights and charges her with high treason, ignoring his own intentions of violating her. Lancelot, whose wounded hand is covered with a glove, stands up for her honor. A duel is arranged, but until then, Sir Meliagrance invites Lancelot on a tour of his castle. He tricks Lancelot and pushes him into a dungeon, telling Guenever that her champion rode off unexpectedly.
When the time for the trial by combat arrives, Lancelot is nowhere to be found, so Sir Lavine is chosen to fight in his stead. However, a maid has released Lancelot in exchange for a kiss, and he comes riding up at the last minute. They duel, and Lancelot quickly gains the advantage. When Sir Meliagrance begs for mercy, Guenever gives him the thumbs down. Sir Lancelot agrees to fight Sir Meliagrance with most of his armor removed, but he still is able to overpower the evil knight and cuts off his head.
Sir Urre has a wound that will not heal. He seeks the touch of the...
(The entire section is 508 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 1-3 Summary
The Orkney brothers, Agravaine and Mordred, discuss their hatred for King Arthur. Mordred despises the father who never acknowledged him, claiming that he set him to sea at birth in order to drown him. Agravaine’s feelings are less intense, but he is willing to side with Mordred. Born with a crooked shoulder, as well as being illegitimate and the product of incest, Mordred has a vendetta against the world, which he visualizes in the person of King Arthur. Agravaine tells him that they will need something more than a personal grudge to start a war. Mordred suggests to Agravaine that they take out their vengeance on Lancelot by publicly accusing him of adultery with Queen Guenever. This is widely known, and has been for years, and both of them know that Arthur is aware of it. Mordred says that with Arthur’s new laws, the matter will have to be officially investigated. The days of trial by combat are over, thanks to Arthur’s new kingdom of Right.
Agravaine and Mordred are then joined by their brothers Gawaine, Gaheris, and Gareth. When Agravaine makes remarks about Guenever and Lancelot, Gawaine tells him to cease speaking against the king. Agravaine and Mordred bring up Arthur’s past actions against their family, and matters come to a head when the two conspirators attempt to leave in order to confront Arthur with the truth. When Gawaine blocks the door, Agravaine pulls out his sword. The two brothers engage in combat, but they are interrupted by Arthur himself, who enters, kisses Mordred, and smiles on the others.
Sir Lancelot and Queen Guenever look out the solar window at the kingdom below. They are past middle age yet reject the modern idea that love is only for the young. Arthur’s England has risen from a time of chaos and anarchy, where nature and man preyed on the innocent. It is a time of law and culture, despite the name of the Dark Ages. Arthur had inherited an England where rulers ruled by force and terror. Now Arthur has turned it into a realm of beauty and reverence. The Catholic Church is in a position of respect and influence where it can impose the Peace of God across the realm from a Wednesday to the following Monday. It is the Age of the Individual, when each person can seek his own path in the pursuit of happiness. This is the world that Arthur has created as the most civilized monarch in Christendom.
(The entire section is 418 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 4-6 Summary
Lancelot and Guenever discuss their relationship. Lancelot wants Guenever to come with him to his castle, Joyous Gard, and live with him openly for the last part of their lives. Guenever refuses, not wanting to hurt Arthur. Lancelot accuses her of wanting two husbands. Arthur then comes upon them unobserved and hears their conversation. He backs out and sends a page to announce him. He greets them and wishes to tell them a secret. He explains once again the story of his birth and childhood. This is known to them, but they do not know that his half-sisters were the Cornwall sisters. He tells them that not knowing their true relationship, he had slept with his half-sister, Morgause, and sired a baby, Mordred. Lancelot refuses to find fault with his hero, saying that he did not know and Morgause was a witch anyway. Arthur refuses to let him talk about the mother of his only son that way, and he refuses to let Lancelot think him guiltless. He explains that knowing Mordred would be his downfall, he ordered all babies born at the time of Mordred’s birth to be placed in a boat and set out to sea. The boat landed on an island, but most of the babies drowned. Mordred survived and was returned to his mother. Lancelot sees Mordred as a threat and says that he should be executed. Arthur refuses to add more deaths to his conscience, even if it means his own doom.
The Orkney brothers gather in the Justice Room. Gawaine, Gaheris, and Gareth try to convince Agravaine and Mordred to give up their plan to accuse the queen of adultery and treason. As they are talking, Arthur enters. Mordred tells him that it is widely known that Guenever has been Sir Lancelot’s mistress for years. Arthur reminds him of Sir Meliagrance’s attempt to charge the queen with treason, but Mordred says that this was during the days of trial by combat. In Arthur’s new kingdom, trial by jury is the prescribed method. He says that he can bring evidence of the queen’s unfaithfulness that will stand up in court. Arthur warns him that if he fails to do so, he will use the same law to hunt both Mordred and Agravaine down.
Gareth comes to warn Lancelot about the trap to catch him with Guenever. Lancelot does not believe him, saying that Arthur would not allow such a thing and would not have gone off on a hunting trip if he knew it was planned. The signal comes from the queen, and Lancelot leaves Gareth to go to Guenever’s bed chamber.
(The entire section is 443 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 7-10 Summary
Lancelot goes to Guenever’s bed chamber and tells her of Gareth’s warning. At first she dismisses it, stating that Arthur would never willingly be part of such a trap. On second thought, she thinks that he might if he felt forced by his sense of justice. She urges Lancelot to leave at once, but it is too late. There is knocking on the door and a command to open. Lancelot lets one knight in, slamming the door behind him. He takes the knight’s sword and kills him. Opening the visor, he sees that he has killed Agravaine. Lancelot then prepares for a siege and gets Guenever to promise to come to him at Joyous Gard if they are able to escape. She agrees in desperation, knowing that if they are caught she will be burned at the stake and Lancelot will be executed.
Mordred and Gawaine watch the preparations for Guenever’s execution. Arthur enters and tells Gareth and Gaheris to go down to strengthen the guard, preparing to offer some resistance when Lancelot comes to rescue the queen, as Arthur prays that he does. Guenever is brought out dressed only in her shift and tied to the stake. Lancelot arrives as hoped for, giving battle to the guard and finally managing to rescue Guenever and ride off with her. Arthur is overjoyed that his queen is safe. He learns that Gaheris and Gareth are among the dead knights slain during the struggle.
Six months later, Lancelot and Guenever are under siege at Joyous Gard. Guenever suggests that she go back, even if it means being burned at the stake. Lancelot refuses to consider this, saying that they should let the Pope decide, asking that he excommunicate both sides if an agreement is not reached. Guenever tells him that if they do this, they will have to abide by whatever the decision is.
The Pope decrees that Guenever shall return to her husband with no punishment. No word is said about Sir Lancelot. Gawaine and Mordred watch the peace procession, with Guenever carrying an olive branch. Mordred is unsatisfied, and neither is Gawaine. As the king grants forgiveness to the queen, Gawaine tells Lancelot that he has been banished from the kingdom. He has fifteen days to leave England, and that the decree is with Arthur’s consent. Lancelot begs Gawaine not to follow him, thus prolonging the war, but Gawaine refuses this request. Lancelot bids the crowds good-bye and sets off for France.
(The entire section is 417 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 11-13 Summary
Guenever and her maid Agnes discuss the fight in France between Gawaine and Lancelot. Arthur has joined Gawaine, feeling that it is his duty as the king to fight for justice. Agnes speaks of her distrust of Mordred, who has been left as Lord Protector of the realm by Arthur. Guenever sends Agnes off to bed, and Mordred pushes his way into her chamber. He torments Guenever, who tries to keep her dignity about her. He tells her that Arthur and Lancelot are both dead, having killed each other. She does not believe it, and Mordred admits it is a lie. However, the common people of the realm would believe it, and he himself would then become king. Guenever begins to understand his evil plan and Mordred confirms it when he suggests that, since his father committed incest, he should continue the pattern by marrying his father’s wife.
In France, Gawaine lies wounded, bewailing the fact that Lancelot has once again shown him mercy instead of killing him. Arthur comforts him, and they speak of Gareth. A letter from Guenever comes. She says that Mordred has proclaimed Arthur and his knights dead, making himself King of England under his New Order. He has proposed to Guenever, who accepted him. She asked permission to go to London for her trousseau, and when she arrived, she locked herself in the Tower, where Mordred is now laying siege. Gawaine gets up, determined to return to England despite his wounds.
In Lancelot’s camp, Sir Bors wonders why Arthur and Gawaine have left the field of battle so quickly. Lancelot soon arrives with a letter from Gawaine, written shortly before he died. Mordred has raised an army, part of which is in London laying siege to Guenever in the Tower, and the other in Kent, preventing Arthur’s landing. After a furious battle, during which Gawaine received his death wound, Arthur was victorious. Gawaine begs Lancelot to come to Arthur’s aid as soon as possible.
In Salisbury, Arthur grieves for Gawaine, but also for what was lost in his vision of the Round Table. He calls a young page to deliver a letter. The page has intentions in fighting in the last battle the following day, but Arthur tells him to refrain from the combat so that he may carry the vision that Arthur was not able to bring to pass. The page, whose name is Thomas and wears the Malory bearings, must live to tell the story of King Arthur, Camelot, and the glorious Knights of the Round Table to future generations.
(The entire section is 480 words.)