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The Once and Future King

T. H. White

Book I: “The Sword in the Stone,” Chapters 20–24

Book I: “The Sword in the Stone,” Chapters 14–19

Book I: “The Sword in the Stone,” Chapters 20–24, page 2

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Summary: Chapter 20

Six years pass. Kay becomes more temperamental, insisting on using weapons he cannot handle and challenging everybody to fights in which he is invariably defeated. He begins to spend less time with the Wart, since the Wart will soon be beneath Kay’s social station, though it seems Kay is behaving in this way against his will. The Wart is resigned to his fate as Kay’s squire.

Summary: Chapter 21

Merlyn tells the sulking Wart that the best thing for sadness is to learn something new. Merlyn tells the Wart that this is the last time he will be able to turn him into an animal, since they will soon part ways. Merlyn then turns the Wart into a badger and sends him to visit a wise badger. The Wart, however, in his foul mood, wanders away from the badger’s lair and comes across a hedgehog, whom he threatens to eat.

The Wart eventually returns to the badger’s lair and talks to the badger, who tells the Wart a story about how man got dominion over the animals. In the beginning, all animals looked like shapeless embryos. God offered to alter each of them in three different ways. The animals chose things like claws for digging and large teeth for cutting. Man was the last embryo to choose, and he chose to stay just as God made him. God therefore gave him dominion over the animals and the ability to use any tool he wanted. The badger wonders, however, whether man has turned his dominion into a kind of tyranny.

Summary: Chapter 22

When King Pellinore arrives for Kay’s knighting, he brings important news: King Uther Pendragon has died without an heir. A sword, which has been stuck all the way through an iron anvil and into a stone underneath it, has appeared in front of a church in London. On the sword are inscribed the words, “Whoso Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of All England.” A tournament has been proclaimed for New Year’s Day so that men from all over England can come to try to pull out the sword. Kay convinces Sir Ector, Sir Grummore, and Sir Pellinore that they should go to the tournament. While they are talking, the Wart and Merlyn enter and Merlyn announces that he is leaving.

Summary: Chapter 23

On the day of the tournament, Kay is so excited that he makes the group get up early and go to the jousting area an hour before the jousts begin. When he arrives, Kay realizes that he has left his sword at the inn, so he haughtily sends the Wart to go back and get it. The inn is closed, however, when the Wart gets there. In front of a nearby church, he sees a sword stuck in a stone. He makes two unsuccessful attempts to pull out the sword. There is a sudden stirring in the churchyard, and the Wart sees a congregation of his old animal friends. With their encouragement, the Wart pulls the sword from the stone with ease. The Wart brings the sword back to Kay. Kay recognizes it as the sword that will determine the next king of England and falsely claims that he was the one who pulled it out of the stone. When Sir Ector presses Kay, however, Kay admits that the Wart pulled it out. To the Wart’s horror, his beloved foster father and brother both kneel before him, and he tearfully wishes he had never found the sword.

Summary: Chapter 24

The Wart is accepted as king after repeatedly putting the sword into the anvil and drawing it back out again. He receives gifts from all over England. One day, Merlyn appears magically before him. He tells the Wart that the Wart’s father was Uther Pendragon and that Merlyn was the one who first brought the Wart to Sir Ector’s castle as an infant. Merlyn tells the Wart that from now on he will be known as King Arthur.

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