The story begins with Wart’s tutoring alongside the noble, socially superior Kay. As an orphan, Wart feels different...
The first part of T.H. White’s King Arthur texts The Once and Future King chronicles the legendary hero’s childhood as Wart, the nickname a young Sir Kay bestowed upon his foster brother.
The story begins with Wart’s tutoring alongside the noble, socially superior Kay. As an orphan, Wart feels different than Kay, and he prefers to avoid the topic of his parentage. As the pair of boys go out for a rabbit hunt, the narrator discusses Wart’s anxiety about this subject. A quote from this early point in the text is below:
“He admired Kay and was a born follower. He was a hero-worshipper.”
Although Kay is only two years older than Wart, the younger boy idolizes him. This quote also shows that Wart does not show leadership skills at this point in his life.
Later on, when Merlyn trains Kay and Wart at proper tilting, the narrator describes Wart as a passive participant in this:
"Wart was pleased that it was Kay's turn to go through it now and he lay drowsily in the shade, snoozing, scratching, twitching like a dog and partly attending to the fun."
This quote shows that Wart is immature. At this point, he is uninterested in becoming a master of tilting, and he would rather be left to his leisure, pursuing the activities he wanted instead of the ones in which he is forced to participate. Wart is not yet ready for responsibilities, which also explains why he prefers to follow instead of lead.
Wart experiences little personal growth through the years (the narrator even remarks he is “still stupid”) until the time comes for Merlyn to move on, Kay to be knighted, and Wart to become his squire. When Wart is tasked with fetching Kay’s forgotten sword, Wart instead pulls the sword from the stone, a miraculous feat that he doesn’t seem to understand:
"He saw that his dear guardian was looking quite old and powerless, and that he was kneeling down with difficulty on a gouty knee.
'Sir,' said Sir Ector, without looking up, although he was speaking to his own boy.
'Please do not do this, father,' said the Wart, kneeling down also. 'Let me help you up, Sir Ector, because you are making me unhappy.'"
His excerpt shows that Wart is both crafty (for quickly finding a replacement sword) and humble (he feels uncomfortable seeing Ector kneel). Wart fulfills his destiny as the future king because of his humility. Wart will reluctantly become the leader, but he will not abuse his power over others.
Once the Wart is crowned as King Arthur, he gains a new confidence that stems from public perspective:
"several burghers of the City of London asked him to help them in taking stoppers out of unruly bottles, unscrewing taps which had got stuck, and in other household emergencies which had got beyond their control."
This quote explains how pulling the sword from the stone earned Wart public notoriety and respect. Although the requests of the burghers seem comical in their simplicity, this quote shows that people now trust and look up to Wart, once an unconfident boy who preferred to fade into the background.