Study Guide

The Once and Future King Book 4, Chapter 14

By T.H. White

Book 4, Chapter 14

  • Arthur is alone in his pavilion, after two battles, and he's exhausted. He ruminates over his worries.
  • He realizes that every single plan he has made to counteract Might as a force of tyranny or evil has failed.
  • Ultimately, there are no laws that can constrain all-out war. Plus, none of the ways people can channel Might will work, if the person is innately bad to begin with.
  • Despairingly, Arthur considers that maybe people are neither good nor bad, and cannot really possess virtues. That they're basically like machines reacting to external stimuli.
  • He thinks about the various reasons why men fight. Why was it so easy for Mordred to lead the Englishmen down a bad path, when he tried to lead them to positive things and it didn't work for very long?
  • It seems like as long as people refuse to forget the past, fighting and war will never end.
  • Anything you do, he thinks, can lead to some kind of unforeseen horrible consequences. So much so that if he had his whole life to live all over again, he'd probably go to a monastery.
  • What is needed is forgetfulness and a fresh start. That's the only thing that can break the cycle of violence.
  • The other thing is the sense of possession. People are going to fight as long as they think of things as being mine, mine, mine!
  • The opposite of "Mine" is "Ours," a view that the Church seems to hold—at least in its idealistic form.
  • Arthur doesn't really like this view, because it's easy to say that you wouldn't have cancer if you didn't have the body part to be stricken with cancer. The loss is life and living, which is no solution at all.
  • Maybe war is caused by fear, then, which is linked with truth. If you always tell the truth, there's really nothing to fear.
  • Oh, well. This is all too difficult, and Arthur is an old, tired man now and doesn't have an answer.
  • He summons a page (one Tom of Newbold Revell, a.k.a. our Main Man Malory), and gives him a letter to take to the Bishop.
  • Little Tom is looking forward to fighting in the final battle the following day.
  • Arthur proceeds to tell Tom a story about himself. About founding the Round Table under the best of intentions, but everything going wrong despite that.
  • In the end, Arthur tells him, everybody died in the war, except for one page called... Tom of Newbold Revell. The King tells him that he would not be allowed to fight, and had to go back to his hometown and then later tell everyone who would listen about the ancient idea the King had.
  • He finally tells Tom that his idea in relation to the knights of the Round Table was like a candle that he has carried for many years, shielding the flame with his hand. He's now going to give that candle to Tom to carry on his ideas.
  • With that, he sends Tom off.
  • Later that night, after Tom is gone, Arthur is awake and thinking. He becomes sad, and cries.
  • He hears a sound at his tent door, and thinks it's Merlyn. But nobody is there.
  • He thinks back on the different lessons Merlyn taught him—especially those he learned when he took the shape of different animals.
  • Epiphany time: war is fought over literally nothing. It's fought over imaginary lines drawn on maps. Territory.
  • The solution is to unimagine all of those imaginary lines on the globe. This would all seem madness if only humans could learn to fly (like the geese).
  • The next morning, Arthur awakens refreshed. He thinks there must be a day when he will return to Gramarye with a new Round Table—one that has no boundaries.
  • The key is to get people to learn to read and write; if this can happen, then maybe there's a chance.
  • He didn't have time to make another effort, though, because he was scheduled to die. Some say he was carried off to the magical island of Avilion, to wait for a better time to return.
  • Lancelot and Guenever go live religious lives, and Mordred dies.
  • Hearing the sound of cannons, Arthur prepares to meet his future, at peace.
  • Here ends the book of the Once and Future King.
  • The beginning.

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