Skip over navigation

The Once and Future King

T. H. White

Key Facts

Important Quotations Explained

Study Questions & Essay Topics

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; 19361958

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 Malory.

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 third book.

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.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us