Study Guide

The Once and Future King Book 1, Chapter 21

By T.H. White

Book 1, Chapter 21

  • The day of Kay's knighting ceremony is fast approaching, and to draw Wart out of his sadness, Merlyn urges him to engage in learning once more.
  • This, Merlyn tells him, is the last time he'll be allowed to turn him into something else, though. All of this sort of magic will have been used up once Kay has been knighted. So sad.
  • And this time, Merlyn wants him to talk to a badger, the wisest creature he knows next to Archimedes.
  • Wart is turned into a badger, and takes off, disobeying Merlyn's instructions. He's quite mad that he's about to lose everything—Kay, Merlyn, and his education.
  • Badger-Wart comes across a sleeping hedgehog, and cruelly tells it that he's going to gobble him up.
  • The poor hedgehog begs Wart to not be tyrannical, and to have mercy.
  • After the pitiful hedgehog sings several songs, Badger-Wart agrees to not kill him. Well, how generous of him.
  • The hedgehog reveals that Merlyn raised him, so he's no common hedgehog.
  • After speaking with the hedgehog for a time, Badger-Wart finally meets up with the badger.
  • The badger gives Wart a tour of his large abode, and Wart is quite impressed.
  • Wart and the badger drink to Kay's good luck, and then the badger tells Wart that he's writing a book currently—about how Man became the master of all animals.
  • The badger's treatise is an account of how God created embryos, and how he allowed them to choose what type of creature they wanted to be.
  • Also, as an added bonus, God allowed them to make adaptations that would be useful to them in their lives—but they cannot later change their minds.
  • The last embryo to tell God its desired specializations was Man.
  • And, strangely enough, Man decides to stay as God made him, using tools in place of the types of adaptations the other animals have chosen.
  • Since Man solved the riddle, he wins. He (Adam, of course) now will be granted by God dominion over all of the other living things.
  • So, Wart learns that not only is Man king of the animals, but (as the badger suggests) possibly a tyrant.
  • Humans, the badger points out, have their vices. For one thing, humans are the only species that wages war.
  • Wart, thinking he's pretty smart, claims that ants do, and the badger roundly chastises him for lumping all ants into the same category, when there are actually over 4,000 different types of ants, only five of which, according to the badger, are warlike.
  • The only warlike creatures out of all of the living things on the earth are five varieties of ant, one termite, and humans.
  • Wart just doesn't get it. He tells the badger he'd like to go to war, if only he could be made a knight.
  • The badger changes the subject—he just can't with Wart right now.

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