The Once and Future King

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

White’s version of the Arthurian legend consists of four stories. “The Sword and the Stone,” the best known of the four, is the account of the young Arthur’s education for kingship. The magician Merlin changes him into various animals so that he may better come to understand human emotions. The middle stories, “The Queen of Air and Darkness” and “The Ill-Made Knight,” detail the rise of the King’s fortunes. The King creates his Round Table so that might may serve right, and, for a time, his ideals are realized. At the same time, the seeds of Arthur’s downfall are sown: Morgause and her son Mordred plot against him; and Lancelot, his best knight, suffers from an incurable love for Arthur’s queen. Boredom, too, infects the knights and Arthur creates the quest of the Holy Grail to give his knights a cause worthy of their attention. In the final tale, “The Candle in the Wind,” the relationship between Lancelot and Guinevere is discovered, and Arthur is obliged to enforce laws that are technically correct but seem morally unfair to him. Civil war breaks out, and Arthur goes off to die, entrusting the legacy of his kingdom to a young boy whom he charges to keep alive the spirit that had been created at Camelot.

White’s Arthurian story has been adapted for the stage (CAMELOT) and for the screen (Disney’s SWORD AND THE STONE), attesting its appeal as a love story and a child’s fantasy. Nevertheless, the novel is filled with...

(The entire section is 544 words.)