The Once and Future King
Study Questions & Essay Topics
1. The tone of Book I is drastically different from the tone of Book IV. Book I is lighthearted and leisurely, whereas Book IV is tragic and fast paced. In your view, how do these two books come together? Which themes and elements of style connect them?
2. The quest for the Holy Grail is a central part of the Arthurian legend, but it gets only seven short chapters in Book III of The Once and Future King. What is the relevance of the quest to the idea of might versus right?
3. Most of Arthur’s conclusions about might and right come from Merlyn. To what extent do you think Arthur learns to think for himself by the end of the novel and to what extent is he simply still repeating what Merlyn has taught him?
Suggested Essay Topics
1. Lancelot is a complex character, torn between cruelty and compassion. Discuss how such conflicts affect Lancelot’s relationships with Guenever, Arthur, God, and chivalry.
2. The Wart has numerous adventures when Merlyn changes him into the form of animals, but only five of them are described in detail: his transformations into a perch, a merlin, a badger, an ant, and a goose. Briefly discuss the relevance each of these episodes has to the idea of might versus right and the development of Arthur’s thoughts about civilization and government.
3. White wrote The Once and Future King in the form of numerous short, episodic chapters. Discuss the effect of this format on the pacing, plot, and character development of the novel.
4. The novel generally presents an antiwar message, but nevertheless draws a great deal of dramatic power from the conflict inherent in warfare. Is the novel’s attitude toward war consistent, or does White contradict himself by glorifying battles?
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