full title · The Once and Future King
author · T. H. (Terence Hanbury) White
type of work · Novel
genre · Fantasy; heroic epic; satire
language · English
time and place written · England; 1936–1958
date of first publication · 1958. The four books that make up the novel were previously published separately: “The Sword in the
Stone” in 1938; “The Queen of Air and Darkness” (published as The Witch in the Wood) in 1939; “The Ill-Made Knight” in 1940; and
“The Candle in the Wind” in 1958.
publisher · G. P. Putnam‟s Sons
narrator · The narrator speaks in the third person and is omniscient, or all-knowing. The narrator has access to the thoughts of all the
characters and provides commentary on the context of the work, as in the references to Adolf Hitler, Uncle Sam, and Sir Thomas
point of view · In general, the novel oscillates among the points of view of Arthur, Lancelot, and Guenever, though it occasionally
assumes the point of view of minor characters such as Elaine and Gawaine.
tone · The tone changes throughout the four books of the novel. It is playful and satirical in the first book, but gradually grows darker
and more serious
tense · Past
setting (time) · The era of King Arthur, a legendary figure in the folklore of medieval England
setting (place) · Medieval England and France
protagonist · Arthur, who is called the Wart in Book I, is the protagonist of most of the novel, but Lancelot is the protagonist of the
major conflict · Arthur struggles to transform feudal England into a civilized country in which strength does not overwhelm justice.
rising action · Lancelot‟s destructive love affair with Guenever; the jealous conspiracies of the Orkney faction; Arthur‟s incestuous
affair with Morgause
climax · Because the novel is episodic in form, each of its books comes to its own minor climax: in Book I, Arthur‟s becoming king;
in Book II, Morgause‟s seduction of Arthur; in Book III, the blossoming of Lancelot and Guenever‟s affair; and in Book IV, the
exposing of Lancelot and Guenever‟s affair.
falling action · Arthur wages war against Lancelot; Mordred seizes power in England
themes · The relationship between force and justice; the senselessness of war; the frivolity of knighthood
motifs · Myths and legends; blood sports; castles
symbols · The Round Table; the Questing Beast; the Holy Grail
foreshadowing · Merlyn‟s frequent comments about Arthur‟s future and death hint at the destruction of Camelot and the demise of
Arthur‟s reign, which is the most prominent subject of foreshadowing in the novel.
Arthur was the first born son of King Uther Pendragon and heir to the throne. However these were very troubled times and Merlin, a
wise magician, advised that the baby Arthur should be raised in a secret place and that none should know his true identity.
As Merlin feared, when King Uther died there was great conflict over who should be the next king. Merlin used his magic to set a
sword in a stone. Written on the sword, in letters of gold, were these words: "Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone is the
rightwise born king of all England." Of course all the contenders for the throne took their turn at trying to draw the sword, but none
could succeed. Arthur, quite by chance, withdrew the sword for another to use in a tournament. Following this he became King.
He gathered Knights around him and fought back against the Saxons who, since the Romans left Britain, were slowly but surely
taking the country over. After many great battles and a huge victory at Mount Badon the Saxons' advance was halted.
Arthur's base was at a place called Camelot. Here he built a strong castle. His knights met at a Round Table. They carried out acts of
chivalry such as rescuing damsels in distress and fought against strange beasts. They also searched for a lost treasure, which they
believed would cure all ills - this was the 'Quest for the Holy Grail'.
Under the guidance of Merlin, Arthur had obtained a magical sword from The Lady Of The Lake. This sword was called 'Excalibur"
and with this weapon he vanquished many foes.
Queen Guinevere, Arthur's beautiful wife brought romance to the story while his equally beautiful half sister Morgan le Fay added a
Unfortunately, as peace settled over the country things turned sour within the court of Camelot and civil war broke out. In the final
battle at Camlan both Arthur and Mordred, Arthur's traitorous nephew, were mortally wounded. Arthur was set upon a boat and
floated down river to the isle of Avalon. Here his wounds were treated by three mysterious maidens. His body was never found and
many say that he rests under a hill with all his knights - ready to ride forth and save the country again.
The King Arthur we know is one of romance, ephemera and myth. But is he real? Arthur has been in and out of fashion more than
denim: one year his veracity is being argued by every archaeologist in Britain, the next he's ignored or derided.
In Revealing King Arthur: Swords, Stones and Digging for Camelot, Christopher Gidlow shows how archaeologists over the last 50
years have interpreted the evidence from Dark Age Britain. At first they were happy to link their discoveries to legendary names.
Then came a backlash, when Arthurian links were ignored or derided. Now, new discoveries have raised again the possibility of a real
King Arthur. He recalls ten sites that suggest Arthur was much more than an old wives' tale.
The legendary site of King Arthur‟s conception is Tintagel Castle. Excavations demonstrated that, as the legends said, this was a
fortified home of the ruler of Cornwall in about 500AD. The largest fortified site of the „Arthurian‟ period, it contained unprecedented
remains of luxury goods from the Eastern Roman Empire. In 1998, a slate engraved with the name „Artognou‟ and other names from
the legends was discovered there.
2. The London Basilica
The earliest historical accounts of Arthur see him as a leader of the kings of the Britons against the invading Saxons. Medieval
legends showed him uniting them by a combination of force and magical displays. Most famous is his drawing the sword from the
stone, "outside the greatest church of London, whether it were Paul's or not", writes Sir Thomas Malory. In fact the largest Church in
Roman London discovered, probably the seat of its Bishop, was at Tower Hill. Christianity was an important part of British identity,
versus Saxon paganism.
Said to be the site of King Arthur‟s coronation, the Roman town of Silchester was heavily fortified in the Arthurian period. Road
blocks were set up on approach roads, and the perimeter was made more defensible. Resistance to the Saxons was so successful,
Silchester never became a Saxon town. Could there be a connection between Arthur‟s sword, Excalibur and the late Roman name for
4. South Cadbury Castle
There are numerous contenders for the site of Arthur‟s Camelot, with Colchester (Camulodunum) probably the forerunner. However,
Henry VIII‟s librarian, John Leland, identified the Iron Age hill fort of South Cadbury as the original Camelot. This inspired the
famous Cadbury/Camelot excavations by Leslie Alcock in the 1960s which showed it had been heavily refortified in the 5th/6th
century. Further work revealed it as one of the centres of a West Country kingdom characterised by large-scale defensive works like
the Wansdyke from Bath to the Savernake Forest. This so impressed invading Saxons they attributed it to the god Woden.
Was Arthur a Celtic warrior, harking back to the warlike days of his ancestors? Other writers see him as a „last of the Romans‟,
struggling to uphold the values of civilisation against a barbarian storm. Some sources describe him as a Roman general, others even
as „Emperor‟. Dramatic evidence of sub-Roman culture was discovered by Philip Barker in the 1960s at Wroxeter. Wooden buildings
tried to keep up the functions of the forum as well as the defences. Tradition put the home of his wife, Queen Guinevere, at nearby
Old Oswestry. Wroxeter, too, never became a Saxon town.
6. Chester Amphitheatre
One of Arthur‟s celebrated '12 battles' against the Saxons was fought at the City of the Legion, the name given to Chester in the Dark
Ages. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of a
Dark Age battle at nearby Heronbridge, and recent excavations show the amphitheatre was fortified in the period, with a shrine to a
Christian martyr at its centre. Is it a coincidence Arthur‟s Round Table was originally described as a very large structure, seating
1,600 of his warriors?
A brief 10th century account records the death of Arthur and Medraut at the battle of Camlann. This was spun out by later writers into
a tragic encounter between Arthur and his rebellious son Mordred. Many scholars believe Camlann was „Camboglanna‟, a nowvanished fort on Hadrian‟s Wall. The next fort, Birdoswald, was excavated in 1987- 92. With the end of Roman rule in the 5th
century, the local garrison commander had set himself up as a tribal-style warlord. A Celtic feasting hall was added to the military
buildings. Other forts along the wall were similarly refortified – the work of King Arthur and a potential power base for rebellious
Medieval writers opted for a West Country site for Arthur‟s last battle. Slaughterbridge on the River Camel has proved popular, for
obvious reasons. There are numerous reports of finds of Dark Age weaponry from the site. It is now the location for an ongoing
archaeological project intended to get a clearer picture of life in the Dark Ages there, and near neighbouring Tintagel. A 6th century
memorial stone, inscribed in Latin and Irish Ogham, is still visible here, bearing an enigmatic inscription, probably to a RomanoBritish warrior named Latinus.
9. Glastonbury Tor
Excavations by Philip Rahtz in the 60s showed someone had been living on top of Glastonbury Tor in the Arthurian period. But who?
Medieval legends provided several candidates. King Meluas of the Summer Country had abducted Queen Guinevere to his castle at
Glastonbury, a story which formed the basis of romances about her rescue by Sir Lancelot. The demonic Gwynn ap Nudd, one of
Arthur‟s legendary warriors, was said to have been banished from his Palace on the Tor by St Collen. Gerald of Wales reported that
Arthur‟s kinswoman, Morgan, had owned land near the abbey and arranged for his burial there. He berated writers who made her the
fabulous enchantress 'Morgan le Fay'.
10. King Arthur’s burial at Glastonbury
In 1191 the monks of Glastonbury Abbey uncovered the body of a gigantic man. Wounded several times in the head, he had
succumbed to one last fatal blow. The bones of his wife, along with a tress of her beautiful golden hair, shared his oak coffin. Ralegh
Radford recovered the site in 1962, showing how two slab-lined tombs of the very earliest stratum of the ancient church had indeed
been disturbed at the time. The monks displayed an ancient lead cross found with the burial, inscribed „Here lies buried the famous
king Arthur with Guinevere his second wife, in the Isle of Avalon‟. Where the cross and bones are now, nobody knows.