Study Guide

The Once and Future King

by T. H. White

The Once and Future King Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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 subsequent reign represents the establishment of a new order. In defending his right to the throne, Arthur first has to abandon the polite forms of chivalric warfare for other tactics. Then, announcing that he will use might only to accomplish right, he establishes the Round Table.

The first test to Arthur’s reign as a just king is the enmity of Queen Morgause, wife of King Lot and sister of Morgan le Fay. Morgause hates anyone who sits on the throne of Uther Pendragon because Uther murdered her father and raped her mother, but she does not realize that Arthur is the child of Uther and her mother. When she seduces Arthur in an attempt to gain power over him, she unknowingly commits incest with her half brother. She teaches the child that results from this union, Mordred, along with her other sons—Gawaine, Gareth, Gaheris, and Agravaine—to hate Arthur. Mordred becomes the embodiment of the ultimate destruction of the Round Table.

The second test of Arthur’s reign comes from the love that Lancelot, despite his worship of Arthur, bears for Arthur’s queen,...

(The entire section is 1040 words.)

The Once and Future King Overview

White's modern retelling of the story of King Arthur and his knights presents the reader with an extremely full range of literary...

(The entire section is 676 words.)

The Once and Future King Chapter Summaries

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.

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.

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...

(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...

(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 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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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,...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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....

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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,...

(The entire section is 480 words.)