Themes and Characters
The major character of The Once and Future King is Arthur, whom Merlyn affectionately nicknames "Wart." One of the strengths of White's novel is that it keeps its focus on Arthur; in many versions of the Arthurian legend, the major emphasis falls on Lancelot and Guenever.
White does not portray Arthur as an all-powerful legendary hero but as a good, honest person, not very clever but willing to work hard to understand the lessons Merlyn teaches him. This is most obvious in The Sword in the Stone, where Merlyn changes Wart into different animals so that the boy can learn the ways of nature. Even after Merlyn departs, Arthur must struggle in order to rule justly and keep the kingdom at peace.
Arthur's chief flaw, which helps to bring on his downfall, is his excessive good-heartedness. This trait makes him unwilling to acknowledge evil in those around him. He is deliberately blind to the evil of Queen Morgause, and will not recognize the adulterous behavior of Lancelot and Guenever. Even though Lancelot and Guenever are basically good, their actions are evilan evil that will destroy all that Arthur has aimed for and accomplished. Yet Arthur refuses to face what is occurring.
The most delightful character in the novel is the wizard Merlyn, who "lives backward in time," remembering the future and predicting the past. Merlyn gives voice to White's philosophy and at times launches into excessively long speeches. White, however, undercuts Merlyn's preachiness. Clearly the cleverest person in the novel, Merlyn is also a bungler who forgets to tell Arthur a crucial piece of information that might save the kingdom.
Perhaps the most enigmatic character in the novel is Lancelot. Even though Lancelot is the greatest of all knights, White portrays him as cursed by an ambiguous secret flaw, an undefined darkness inside that prevents him from ever being at peace with himself. Lancelot is very conscious of his own faults. He knows that his adultery with the Queen goes against the laws of his church, and he does...
(The entire section is 840 words.)