The Once and Future King

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"Why can't you harness Might so that it works for Right?" The audience was interested. They leaned forward to listen, except Merlyn.

The Once and Future King (1958) is a novel by T. H. White based on the legends of King Arthur. It developed as a composite from earlier published works, and was the basis of the musical play Camelot (1960) and the 1967 film made of that, as well as the Disney animated film The Sword in the Stone (1963).

The Sword in the Stone (1938)[edit]

"I have been on that quest you said for a tutor, and I have found him. Please, he is this gentleman here, and he is called Merlyn…He is a great magician."
"Ah, a magician," said Sir Ector, "White magic, I hope?"
"Assuredly," said Merlyn.
  • On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays it was Court Hand and Summulae Logicales, while the rest of the week it was the Organon, Repetition and Astrology. The governess was always getting muddled with her astrolabe, and when she got specially muddled she would take it out of the Wart by rapping his knuckles. She did not rap Kay's knuckles, because when Kay grew older he would be Sir Kay, the master of the estate. The Wart was called the Wart because it more or less rhymed with Art, which was short for his real name.
    • Chapter 1 (opening lines)
  • The governess had red hair and some mysterious wound from which she derived a lot of prestige by showing it to all the women of the castle, behind closed doors. It was believed to be where she sat down, and to have been caused by sitting on some armour at a picnic by mistake. Eventually she offered to show it to Sir Ector, who was Kay's father, had hysterics and was sent away. They found out afterwards that she had been in a lunatic hospital for three years.
    • Chapter 1
  • "Couldn't send them to Eton, I suppose?" inquired Sir Grummore cautiously. "Long way and all that, we know."
    It was not really Eton that he mentioned, for the College of Blessed Mary was not founded until 1440, but it was a place of the same sort. Also they were drinking Metheglyn, not Port, but by mentioning the modern wine it is easier to give you the feel.
    "The only other thing," said Sir Grummore, "is to have a tutor."
    • Chapter 1
  • The Wart was not a proper son. He did not understand this, but it made him feel unhappy, because Kay seemed to regard it as making him inferior in some way. Also it was different not having a father and mother, and Kay had taught him that being different was wrong.
    • Chapter 1
  • Wart would not have been frightened of an English forest nowadays, but the great jungle of Old England was a different matter. The mad and wicked animals were not the only inhabitants of the crowded gloom. There were magicians in the forest…as well as strange animals not known to modern works of natural history. There were regular bands of Saxon outlaws, who lived together and wore green and shot with arrows which never missed. There were even a few dragons, though these were small ones, which lived under stones and could hiss like a kettle.
    • Chapter 2
  • "Excuse me, sir," said the Wart, "but can you tell me the way to Sir Ector's castle, if you don't mind?"
    The aged gentleman put down his bucket and looked at him. "Your name would be the Wart."
    "Yes, sir, please, sir."
    "My name," said the old man, "is Merlyn."
    "How do you do?"
    "How do."
    When these formalities had been concluded, the Wart had leisure to look at him more closely. The magician was staring at him with a kind of unwinking and benevolent curiosity which made him feel that it would not be at all rude to stare back.
    • Chapter 3, where Wart/Arthur meets Merlyn for the first time, but Merlyn is seeing Arthur for the last time.
"I unfortunately was born at the wrong end of time, and I have to live backwards from in front, while surrounded by a lot of people living forwards from behind."
—Merlyn.
  • Now ordinary people are born forwards in Time, if you understand what I mean, and nearly everything in the world goes forward too. This makes it quite easy for the ordinary people to live… But I unfortunately was born at the wrong end of time, and I have to live backwards from in front, while surrounded by a lot of people living forwards from behind. Some people call it having second sight.
    • Chapter 3
  • Merlyn stopped talking and looked at the Wart in an anxious way. "Have I told you this before?"
    "No, we only met about half an hour ago."
    "So little time to pass?" and a big tear ran down to the end of his nose. He wiped it off with his pyjamas and added anxiously, "Am I going to tell it you again?"
    • Chapter 3
  • Merlyn took the Wart's hand and said kindly, "You are young, and do not understand these things. But you will learn that owls are the most courteous, single-hearted and faithful creatures living. You must never be familiar, rude or vulgar with them, or make them look ridiculous. Their mother is Athene, the goddess of wisdom, and, although they are often ready to play the buffoon to amuse you, such conduct is the prerogative of the truly wise. No owl can possibly be called 'Archie'."
    "I am sorry, owl," said the Wart.
    • Chapter 3
  • The Wart started talking before he was half-way over the drawbridge. "Look who I have brought," he said. "Look! I have been on a Quest! I was shot at with three arrows. They had black and yellow stripes. The owl is called Archimedes. I saw King Pellinore. This is my tutor, Merlyn. I went on a Quest for him. He was after the Questing Beast. I mean King Pellinore. It was terrible in the forest. Merlyn made the plates wash up."
    • Chapter 4
  • "Oh, my own random, wicked little lamb!"
    • Chapter 4, the nurse, relieved at Wart's safe return from his unplanned quest.
Arthur's coat of arms: Azure, 13 crowns, Or
  • "Oh, sir," said the Wart, "I have been on that quest you said for a tutor, and I have found him. Please, he is this gentleman here, and he is called Merlyn…He is a great magician."
    "Ah, a magician," said Sir Ector, "White magic, I hope?"
    "Assuredly," said Merlyn.
    "Ought to have some testimonials," said Sir Ector doubtfully. "It's usual."
    "Testimonials," said Merlyn, holding out his hand.
    Instantly there were some heavy tablets in it, signed by Aristotle, a parchment signed by Hecate, and some typewritten duplicates signed by the Master of Trinity, who could not remember having met him. All these gave Merlyn an excellent character.
    • Chapter 4
  • "I do not think much of it as a quest," said Kay.
    "Kay," said Merlyn, suddenly terrible, "thou wast ever a proud and ill-tongued speaker, and a misfortunate one. Thy sorrow will come from thine own mouth."
    At this everybody felt uncomfortable, and Kay, instead of flying into his usual passion, hung his head. He was not at all an unpleasant person really, but clever, quick, proud, passionate and ambitious. He was one of those people who would be neither a follower nor a leader, but only an aspiring heart… Merlyn repented of his rudeness at once. He made a little silver hunting-knife come out of the air, which he gave him to put things right. The knob of the handle was made of the skull of a stoat and Kay loved it.
    • Chapter 4
  • Think for how many centuries that unconquerable tower has withstood. It has changed hands by secession often, by siege once, by treachery twice, but never by assault. On this tower the look-out hoved. From here he kept the guard over the blue woods towards Wales. His clean old bones lie beneath the floor of the chapel now, so you must keep it for him.
    • Chapter 5, from White's guide-book style description of Castle Sauvage
  • In Sir Ector's kennel there was a special boy, called the Dog Boy, who lived with the hounds day and night. He was none other than the one who had his nose bitten off by the terrible Wat. Not having a nose like a human, and being, moreover, subjected to stone-throwing by the other village children, he had become more comfortable with animals. He talked to them, not in baby-talk like a maiden lady, but correctly in their own growls and barks. They all loved him very much, and revered him for taking thorns out of their toes, and came to him with their troubles at once. He always understood immediately what was wrong, and generally he could put it right.
    It was nice for the dogs to have their god with them, in visible form.
    • Chapter 5
  • "Please," said the Wart, "I don't know what I ought to ask."
    "There is nothing," said the monarch, "except the power which you pretend to seek: power to grind and power to digest…all power and pitilessness springing from the nape of the neck…Love is a trick played on us by the forces of evolution. Pleasure is the bait laid down by the same. There is only Power. Power is of the individual mind, but the mind's power is not enough. Power of the body decides everything in the end, and only Might is Right."
    • Chapter 5, Wart's brief lesson from "Mr. P," an enormous pike and King of the Moat at Castle Sauvage. Many of Merlyn's lessons and debates with Wart (before and after he becomes king) are focused on convincing him to reject the "might makes right" ethos.
  • "What is it that you want me to do?"
    "Turn me and Kay into snakes or something."
    Merlyn took off his spectacles, dashed them on the floor and jumped on them with both feet. "Castor and Pollux blow me to Bermuda!" he exclaimed, and immediately vanished with a frightful roar.
    When Merlyn reappeared, he had lost his hat and his hair and beard were tangled up, as if by a hurricane.
    "Why did you do that?" asked the Wart.
    "I did not do it on purpose."
    • Chapter 9
Wart would not have been frightened of an English forest nowadays, but the great jungle of Old England was a different matter.
  • "Well," Robin Wood said, "suppose that Morgan le Fay is the queen of the fairies, or at any rate has to do with them, and that fairies are not the kind of creatures your nurse has told you about. Some people say they are the Oldest Ones of All, who lived in England before the Romans came here — before us Saxons, before the Old Ones themselves — and that they have been driven underground…They know things down there in their burrows which the human race has forgotten about, and quite a lot of these things are not good to hear."
    "Whisper," said the golden lady, with a strange look.
    • Chapter 10, In White's story, Robin Hood is called Robin Wood, who lives in a forest of the same name.
  • EVERYTHING NOT FORBIDDEN IS COMPULSORY
    • Chapter 13, banner inside an ant colony.
  • Master Twyti stroked Beaumont's head and said, "Hark to Beaumont. Softly, Beaumont, mon amy. Oyez a Beaumont the valiant. Swef, le douce Beaumont, swef, swef." Beaumont licked his hand but could not wag his tail. The huntsman nodded to Robin, who was standing behind, and held the hound's eyes with his own. He said, "Good dog, Beaumont the valiant, sleep now, old friend Beaumont, good old dog." Then Robin's falchion let Beaumont out of this world, to run free with Orion and roll among the stars.
    • Chapter 16
  • It was at this moment that King Pellinore reappeared. Even before he came into view they could hear him crashing in the undergrowth and calling out, "I say, I say! Come here at once! A most dreadful thing has happened!"
    The spectacle which they came across was one for which they were not prepared. In the middle of a dead gorse bush King Pellinore was sitting, with the tears streaming down his face. In his lap there was an enormous snake's head, which he was patting. At the other end of the snake's head there was a long, lean, yellow body with spots on it. At the end of the body there were some lion's legs which ended in the slots of a hart.
    "There, there," the King was saying. "I did not mean to leave you altogether. It was only because I wanted to sleep in a feather bed, just for a bit. I was coming back, honestly I was. Oh please don't die, Beast, and leave me without any fewmets!… Now, then, Ector! Don't stand there like a ninny. Fetch that barrel of wine along at once."
    They brought the barrel and poured out a generous tot for the Questing Beast.
    • Chapter 16
"Now the Beast Glatisant, or, as we say in English, the Questing Beast, has the head of a serpent, ah, and the body of a lizard, the haunches of a lion, and he is footed like a hart."
  • "There are no boundaries among the geese. How can you have boundaries if you fly? Those ants of yours — and the humans too — would have to stop fighting in the end, if they took to the air."
    • Ch. 18, Wart and the goose Lyo-lyok
  • "The best thing for being sad…is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake in the middle of the night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting."
    • Chapter 21, Merlyn, to Wart.
  • "Do you mean to tell me," exclaimed Sir Grummore indignantly, "that there ain't no King of Gramarye?"
    "Not a scrap of one," cried King Pellinore, feeling important. "And there have been signs and wonders of no mean might."
    "What sort of signs and wonders?" asked Sir Ector.
    "Well, there has appeared a sort of sword in a stone, what, in a sort of a church…"
    "I don't know what the Church is coming to," said Sir Grummore.
  • "I think it's a scandal," said Sir Grummore. "God knows what the dear old country is comin' to. Due to these lollards and communists, no doubt."
    • Chapter 22
  • "There are words written on this sword in this stone outside this church," cried King Pellinore piteously, "and these words are as follows…”
    "Some red propaganda, no doubt," remarked Sir Grummore.
    King Pellinore closed his eyes tight, extended his arms in both directions, and announced in capital letters,
    "WHOSO PULLETH OUT THIS SWORD OF THIS STONE AND ANVIL, IS RIGHTWISE KING BORN OF ALL ENGLAND."
    "Who said that?"
    "But the sword said it, like I tell you."
    "Talkative weapon," remarked Sir Grummore, skeptically.
    • Chapter 22
  • "How does one get hold of a sword?" the Wart continued. He turned his mount and cantered off along the street. There was a quiet churchyard at the end of it, with a kind of square in front of the church door. In the middle of the square there was a heavy stone with an anvil on it, and a fine new sword was stuck through the anvil.
    "Well," said the Wart, "I suppose it is some sort of war memorial, but it will have to do."
    He strode up the gravel path, and took hold of the sword. "Come, sword," he said. "I must cry your mercy and take you for a better cause."
    • Chapter 23
  • "Oh, Merlyn," cried the Wart, "help me to get this weapon."
    There was a kind of rushing noise…All round the churchyard there were hundreds of old friends…badgers and nightingales and vulgar crows and hares and wild geese and falcons and fishes and dogs and dainty unicorns and solitary wasps and corkindrills and hedgehogs and griffins and the thousand other animals he had met. Some of them had come from the banners in the church, where they were painted in heraldry, some from the waters and the sky and the fields about — but all, down to the smallest shrew mouse, had come to help on account of love. Wart felt his power grow.
    He walked up to the great sword for the third time. He put out his right hand softly and drew it out as gently as from a scabbard.
    • Chapter 23
The barons naturally kicked up a fuss, but, as the Wart was prepared to go on putting the sword into the stone and pulling it out again till Doomsday, and as there was nobody else who could do the thing at all, in the end they had to give in.
  • "Father…Do you remember that sword which the King of England would pull out?" Kay said.
    "Yes."
    "Well, here it is. I have it. It is in my hand. I pulled it out."
    Sir Ector did not say anything silly. He looked at Kay and he looked at the Wart. Then he stared at Kay again, long and lovingly, and said, "We will go back to the church."

    "Now then, Kay," he said, when they were at the church door. He looked at his first-born kindly, but straight between the eyes. "Here is the stone, and you have the sword. It will make you the King of England. You are my son that I am proud of, and always will be, whatever you do. Will you promise me that you took it out by your own might?"
    Kay looked at his father. He also looked at the Wart and at the sword. Then he handed the sword to the Wart quite quietly. "I am a liar. Wart pulled it out."
    • Chapter 23
  • As far as the Wart was concerned, there was a time after this in which Sir Ector kept telling him to put the sword back into the stone — which he did — and in which Sir Ector and Kay then vainly tried to take it out. The Wart took it out for them, and stuck it back again once or twice. After this, there was another time which was more painful.
    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."
    "Nay, nay, my lord," said Sir Ector, "I was never your father nor of your blood, but I wote well ye are of an higher blood than I wend ye were."
    "Plenty of people have told me you are not my father," said the Wart, "but it does not matter a bit."
    "Sir," said Sir Ector humbly, "will ye be my good and gracious lord when ye are King?"
    "Oh, father, don't kneel down like that, because it breaks my heart. Please get up, Sir Ector, and don't make everything so horrible. Oh, dear, oh, dear, I wish I had never seen that filthy sword at all."
    • Chapter 23
  • Perhaps there ought to be a chapter about the coronation. The barons naturally kicked up a fuss, but, as the Wart was prepared to go on putting the sword into the stone and pulling it out again till Doomsday, and as there was nobody else who could do the thing at all, in the end they had to give in. A few of the Gaelic ones revolted, who were quelled later, but in the main the people of England and the partizans like Robin were glad to settle down. They were sick of the anarchy which had been their portion under Uther Pendragon: sick of overlords and feudal giants, of knights who did what they pleased, of racial discrimination, and of the rule of Might as Right.
    • Chapter 24

The Queen of Air and Darkness (1939)[edit]

The odd thing is that Jesus did not turn the disciples into storm troopers, burn down the Temple at Jerusalem, and fix the blame on Pontius Pilate. On the contrary, he made it clear that the business of the philosopher was to make ideas available, and not to impose them on people.
  • Why can't you harness Might so that it works for Right? I know it sounds nonsense, but, I mean, you can't just say there is no such thing. The Might is there, in the bad half of people, and you can't neglect it. You can't cut it out but you might be able to direct it, if you see what I mean, so that it was useful instead of bad.
    • Ch. 6
  • "By the way. You remember that argument we were having about aggression? Well, I have thought of a good reason for starting a war."
    Merlyn froze.
    "I would like to hear it."
    "A good reason for starting a war is simply to have a good reason! For instance, there might be a king who had discovered a new way of life for human beings — you know, something which would be good for them. It might even be the only way from saving them from destruction. Well, if the human beings were too wicked or too stupid to accept his way, he might have to force it on them, in their own interests by the sword."
    The magician clenched his fists, twisted his gown into screws, and began to shake all over.
    "Very interesting," he said in a trembling voice. "Very interesting. There was just such a man when I was young — an Austrian who invented a new way of life and convinced himself that he was the chap to make it work. He tried to impose his reformation by the sword, and plunged the civilized world into misery and chaos. But the thing which this fellow had overlooked, my friend, was that he had had a predecessor in the reformation business, called Jesus Christ. Perhaps we may assume that Jesus knew as much as the Austrian did about saving people. But the odd thing is that Jesus did not turn the disciples into storm troopers, burn down the Temple at Jerusalem, and fix the blame on Pontius Pilate. On the contrary, he made it clear that the business of the philosopher was to make ideas available, and not to impose them on people."
    • Ch. 8 Conversation between Sir Kay and Merlin

The Ill-Made Knight (1940)[edit]

The cannons of his adversary were thundering in the tattered morning when the Majesty of England drew himself up to meet the future with a peaceful heart.
  • "You must come and stay with me," said the King. "That is in the stones also. Show you the holy dish some day, and all that. Teach you arithmetic. Nice weather. Don't have daughters unboiled every day. I think dinner will be ready."
    • King Pelles
  • Don't ever let anybody teach you to think, Lance: it is the curse of the world.
    • Arthur
  • If people reach perfection they vanish, you know.
    • Arthur
  • But there was a time when each of us stood naked before the world, confronting life as a serious problem with which we were intimately and passionately concerned. There was a time when it was of vital interest to us to find out whether there was a God or not. Obviously the existence or otherwise of a future life must be of the very first importance to somebody who is going to live her present one, because her manner of living it must hinge on the problem. There was a time when Free Love versus Catholic Morality was a question of as much importance to our hot bodies as if a pistol had been clapped to our heads.
    Further back, there were times when we wondered with all our souls what the world was, what love was, what we were ourselves.
    • Chapter 13

The Candle in the Wind (1958)[edit]

  • I would do anything for King Arthur.
    • Sir Thomas of Warwick
  • But it was too late for another effort then. For that time it was his destiny to die, or, as some say, to be carried off to Avilion, where he could wait for better days. For that time it was Lancelot's fate and Guenever's to take the tonsure and the veil, while Mordred must be slain. The fate of this man or that man was less than a drop, although it was a sparkling one, in the great blue motion of the sunlit sea.
    The cannons of his adversary were thundering in the tattered morning when the Majesty of England drew himself up to meet the future with a peaceful heart.
    • Ch. 15

External links[edit]

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