Study Guide

The Once and Future King Love

By T.H. White

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"Only I do feel sad sometimes," [Pellinore] added, before they could stop him, "about the Queen of Flanders' daughter. She was not beautiful, Grummore, but she understood me. We seemed to get on together, if you see what I mean. I amn't clever, perhaps, and I may get into trouble when I am by myself, but when I was with Piggy she always knew what to do. It was company too. It is not bad to have a bit of company when you are getting on in life, especially when you have been chasing the Questing Beast all the time, what?" (Q.9.242)

Pellinore doesn't exactly strike us as one of the red hot Arthurian lovers, but he definitely gives a more mature view of relationships than we see in the typical medieval romance's couples always sighing, pining, and weeping over each other. Piggy isn't your typical romance heroine who is young and beautiful; Pellinore loves her for her personality and qualities other than her looks. And good on T.H. White for giving us this alternative view.

"All the world loves a lover." (Q.11.33)

People like to be around those who are in love. It rubs off on them and sometimes makes them happy by association.

The way to use a Spancel was this. You had to find the man you loved while he was asleep. Then you had to throw it over his head without waking him, and tie it in a bow. If he woke while you were doing this, he would be dead within the year. If he did not wake until the operation was over, he would be bound to fall in love with you. (Q.13.41)

Of course, this raises the obvious question: Is this really love? Just as Merlyn says ideas should not be imposed, neither should love. The magic Morgause uses here is a type of violence—violating the free will of the victim.

It is impossible to explain how these things happen. Perhaps the Spancel had a strength in it. Perhaps it was because she was twice his age, so that she had twice the power of his weapons. Perhaps it was because Arthur was always a simple fellow, who took people at their own valuation easily. Perhaps it was because he had never known a mother of his own, so that the rôle of mother love, as she stood there with her children behind her, took him between wind and water. (Q.14.16)

Love is complex. Even when we might be tempted to write off Morgause's seduction of Arthur as just a result of magic, there are other possible reasons and motivations at play.

She was not a minx, not deceitful, not designing and heartless. She was pretty Jenny, who could think and feel. (K.4.49)

The first step toward really loving someone is to recognize them as a real person who has thoughts and feelings of their own. Lancelot here discovers this, and takes his first fateful step toward falling in love with Guenever.

Lancelot had kept himself away for a whole year, but there was a limit to his endurance. Thinking of her all the time and longing to be back with her, he had allowed himself this one indulgence. He had sent his captives to kneel at her feet. (K.8.80)

When you care enough to send the very best. Since there's no Hallmark store or FTD flower delivery service in medieval England, Lancelot sends the next best thing: prisoners.

Probably it is not possible to love two people in the same way, but there are different kinds of love. Women love their children and their husbands at the same time—and men often feel a lusty thought for one woman while they are feeling a love of the heart for another. (K.9.1)

What's interesting is that Guenever breaks the typical feminine mold described here. She doesn't have any children, and she has lusty thoughts for another man (Lancelot) while feeling a genuine love for Arthur.

She behaved like herself. And there must have been something in this self, some sincerity of heart, or she would not have held two people like Arthur and Lancelot. Like likes like, they say. (K.34.6)

Even though an extramarital affair is usually not the route to go, the book allows Guenever to be an admirable character anyway. There's something about her that both Arthur and Lancelot sincerely love. She has depth to her, and could not retain their love without it. In this way, she reflects some of their qualities.

For in those days love was ruled by a different convention to ours. In those days it was chivalrous, adult, long, religious, almost platonic. It was not a matter about which you could make accusations lightly. It was not, as we take it to be nowadays, begun and ended in a long week-end. (K.44.10)

The spectators at the tournament between Lancelot and Meliagrance think that he totally deserves his fate, because his accusations have proven false (well, not really, but that's what they think anyway). Love back then was more pure than it is in the modern world. At least that's the story the narrator's sticking to. What do you think?

"It is the sea," he said solemnly, "in which I was born." (C.7.10)

Even though Lance and Guen are well into middle age (both of them are grey by now), Lance still knows how to drop some swoon-worthy lines. He's comparing her hair to the sea, and saying that he was meant for her.

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