The Once and Future King Summary

“The Once and Future King” is a novel compiled of 4 books written by T. H. White. The plot is set in the lands of “Gramarye”, otherwise known as Britain, and centers around the characters of King Arthur, Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere. Throughout the series, the reader will follow the stories of Arthur’s coming of age, the chronicles of his reign, and subsequently, the story of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere’s forbidden love affair.

In the initial book, “The Sword and The Stone”, the readers are first introduced to King Arthur, who is referred to as the Wart during his adolescence. He stays under the protection of his foster father, Sir Ector, and spends his days under his castle alongside Kay, the legitimate son and rightful heir of the proprietor. Kay is rarely seen to be a disciplined child, as he sees himself as royalty and entitled to respect, whereas Arthur grows in knowledge and morality through the events of their daily lives.

One day, Arthur finds himself lost deep inside a forest in search of a hawk Kay had lost, where he crosses paths with a strange old man who calls himself Merlyn. Merlyn reveals himself as a magician living backward in time, and insists on being Arthur’s mentor. Arthur is pleased with his quest and returns to the castle with his new teacher. After having displayed his magic, Sir Ector doesn’t show much admiration to Merlyn’s crafts, but hires him anyway. Kay continues to act like a spoiled child and tries to devalue Arthur’s quest, which leads to Merlyn berating him, regardless of his royalty. Merlyn understands his mistake, however, and soon apologizes to Kay. Arthur soon begins his lessons from Merlyn, but in quite a peculiar manner. Using his magic, Merlyn would transform Arthur into a myriad of creatures and teach him various lessons that would prove to be crucial in his later years as a ruler.

In the next chapter, Kay is observed to be taught jousting by his superiors when Arthur is found lamenting over his fate of never being able to become a knight. Merlyn, having foresight, knows it to be false and takes away Arthur to see his most admired knight, King Pellinore. Kay soon turns to jealousy, for Merlyn never takes him on journeys, like he does with Arthur. Defeated by his wails and Arthur’s convincing, Merlyn decides to give Kay what he wants.

The next chapter marks the introduction of Robin Hood. The children devise a plan with him to free their friends from Morgan le Fay’s captivity. The palace is enchanted so that only innocent kids may be allowed to enter, so Kay and Arthur travel alone. They pass through many obstacles and soon find Le Fay next to his prisoners. They intimidate him with the knives Robin gave them and free Dog Boy, Friar Tuck, and Wat. On their way back, they face the mighty griffin, the company fail to ward it off and as it is about to pulverize Wat, Kay shoots an arrow into its eye and kills it, thus concluding their heroic adventure.

Arthur continues to receive lessons on life and morality from his transformations into different creatures through Merlyn, and with the passing of six years, he becomes a wise, young man, but is still Kay’s squire nonetheless. And Kay, a miserable and impatient display. It was the day Kay was supposed to receive his knighthood from King Pellinore, but he instead comes with the news of the death of the heirless King of England and his decree of crowning whoever is capable of pulling out his legendary sword from the stone. Kay is enticed by the news and wishes to go to the scene himself. On his way there, he sends Arthur back to fetch his sword, when Arthur notices a sword plunged into a stone in front of a church. With three tries, Arthur successfully pulls out the sword, which is soon revealed to be the sword of the king. Kay tries to trick everyone into thinking he had pulled out the sword, but the truth eventually finds its way, and Arthur is crowned and accepted as the King of England. Afterward, Merlyn one day magically appears to reveal that Arthur was the son of the deceased king Uther Pendragon all along.

The second book, “The Queen of Air and Darkness,” ensues with the writer introducing the antagonists of the plot, who swear revenge for their grandfather’s death and wish for the demise of King Arthur. This part will follow King Arthur’s struggles of retaining his title from his enemies, prominent of whom is King Lot of Orkney and his four sons. By some godly cruelty, however, it unfolds that King Lot’s wife, Morgause also happens to be King Arthur’s half-sister, a detail that will prove to be vital in the conclusion of this chapter.

In his kingdom, Arthur is consulting with his mentor, Merlyn about the forces that threaten his reign and their history. Arthur learns of their beliefs and ideologies and understands his means of retaining his kingship. They also discuss how he may become a fair ruler to his people, once the battles cease, and finally establish that he would devote his efforts to helping those who are less fortunate, weak and can not hold their own. Favoring this decision, he gathers the finest knights to form The Knights of the Round Table, an order fixated for the purpose of spreading the good to his people. The round table is supposed to be a symbol of equal power. Merlyn then informs Arthur that Guenever has such a table, the woman Arthur will soon marry, and also warns him of Guenever’s relationship with the knight Lancelot.

The King soon learns of King Lot’s advances to war and meets him in the battle of Bedegraine with help from the French kings Bors and Ban. King Lot’s army is defeated in battle, and Morgause, with her four sons, soon travels to King Arthur’s domain in a facade to make peace. It is here, when Morgause uses her witchcraft to seduce Arthur into courting with her. The terrible sin of this incestuous act later brings about the downfall of Arthur.

The third book, “The Ill-Made Knight,” is centered around Sir Lancelot, the knight, and his treasonous romantic affair with the Queen Guenever. Lancelot was no more than a child at the time of King Arthur’s crowning when he pledged to join him. He trains as a young boy for years under Uncle Dap and soon becomes the greatest knight. Disdained by not being made a part of the Knights of the Round Table, he journeys to England to Join Arthur, only to meet him along his way dressed as a black knight. King Arthur is thrilled by seeing Lancelot and invites him into his kingdom. Being introduced to Guenever, Lancelot first envies her closeness to the King, but soon starts to develop his own relationship with the queen. Arthur does not doubt his friendship, whereas Lancelot constantly fights against his desires. To distance himself from the queen, Lancelot ventures on many quests, but it only strengthens their feelings for each other. On one of Lancelot’s heroic quest, he saves a young woman named Elaine and is later tricked into courting her, which gives birth to their child Galahad. But Lancelot’s strong belief of his strength deriving from his virginity angers him, and he leaves Elaine.

Defiled already, Lancelot sees no other reason to stay away from Guenever, and as a result, they remain together as lovers for twelve months while King Arthur is away helping King Ban of France. But Guenever soon finds out about Elaine and her acts of jealousy gradually drive Lancelot to the brink of insanity, rendering him to roam aimlessly for years. In his journeys, Lancelot finds himself accommodated by Elaine and his son, Galahad and reconciles his relationship with them. But after he returns to Camelot, he fails to keep himself apart from Guenever. King Arthur, meanwhile, notices that his kingdom is slowly falling apart, so he sends his knights on a quest for the holy grail, in an attempt to keep them engaged.

The fourth book, “The Candle in the Wind,” follows the destruction of Arthur’s kingdom. Mordred, the offspring of King Arthur’s sinful, incestuous acts, plays the role of the catalyst, fulfilling Merlyn’s prophecy. He first conspires with Agravaine to unravel the secrets of Lancelot and Guenever to him, forcing him to punish them and ruining his relationships with his wife and best friend. He orders his queen to be burned and brings his army to destroy Lancelot’s castle. Lancelot, however, saves Guenever from being burned and kills two of King Lot’s sons in the process. Disregarding any possibilities of a truce, Arthur wishes death upon Lancelot, and meanwhile, Mordred takes the throne for himself. He returns immediately to reclaim his throne but faces enemy lines. Arthur, in his last attempt to reclaim England, knows that his time has come, but finds solace in the fact that he shall remain immortal in the pages of history.