White was an unflinching pacifist—in fact, his anti-war views are pretty in your face in The Once and Future King. And they get progressively darker, since he continued to write and revise his works after he saw man's horrific inhumanity to man in WWII.
One of the major aims of these novels is to use a medieval setting to contemplate modern warfare. The book also looks at the ways the ugliness of warfare is covered over by pretty masks of chivalry, glory, and nationalism. Underneath it all, though, is just the ol' Might makes Right drive.
Questions About War
- Why do you think White, who—as a pacifist—detests violence, engages in such graphic descriptions of violence and warfare? Is this gratuitous (like a gross-out movie) or is something else going on?
- How does Merlyn use the animal lessons to try to teach Wart that warfare is basically unnatural?
- Why does Merlyn get so frustrated at Kay when he doesn't seem to understand that you can't just force someone to live the way you want them to live? What historical figure does White bring in to reinforce Merlyn's point?
- Can you imagine any scenario under which humans could disregard territory, and therefore let go of their instinct for warlike behaviors?
Chew on This
White ends his work on an optimistic note. One day in the future, humans will be able to overcome their warlike instincts, and true justice will prevail.
The ending of the book is basically pessimistic. Arthur is about to die, and there's no way he'll be able to return, because humans will never evolve past their desire to use Might. That candle in the wind is going to blow out, no matter how hard Tom tries to shield it.