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The protagonist of the novel. Arthur is known as the Wart in the first book and as King Arthur once he is crowned. He is a conscientious, slightly timid young boy who becomes king of England after being tutored by Merlyn. Arthur believes in justice and in doing what is right, but his faith in good sometimes makes him blind to the intrigue around him.
Read an in-depth analysis of King Arthur.
Arthur’s best knight and the commander of his forces. Lancelot has a love affair with Guenever, Arthur’s queen. Lancelot is a deeply conflicted figure. Although he is considered to be the greatest knight in Arthur’s court, he struggles constantly with feelings of guilt and inadequacy. He is doggedly faithful to those who love him, even if they do not always have his best interests at heart.
Read an in-depth analysis of Lancelot.
A magician who has already lived in the future, so he knows what is going to happen next. Merlyn is Arthur’s tutor and friend. Arthur’s creation of the Round Table and a more civilized England is largely due to Merlyn’s influence. Although Merlyn is powerful, he is also kind and a little absentminded.
Arthur’s wife and Lancelot’s lover. Guenever is beautiful, jealous, and often petty. She is, however, a fundamentally decent person. She understands and supports Arthur’s ideas and loves Lancelot despite his great ugliness.
Read an in-depth analysis of Guenever.
The son of Arthur and his half-sister, Morgause. Cold, calculating, and vicious, Mordred is raised by Morgause to hate Arthur. He thrives on slander and insinuation, which he prefers to open confrontation.
The mother of Gawaine, Gaheris, Gareth, and Agravaine, and the half-sister of Arthur. Morgause is cruel and petty, but her little whims have a huge impact on Arthur and England. Her seduction of Arthur is the first step in Arthur’s destruction.
A girl Lancelot is tricked into sleeping with, and the mother of Galahad. Although still very young, Elaine is crafty and determined enough to do all she can to win Lancelot’s love. Except for the two times she persuades Lancelot to stay with her, Elaine is an unhappy woman, well aware that Lancelot loves Guenever.
Lancelot and Elaine’s son. Galahad is morally perfect and invincible and the only knight holy enough to find the Holy Grail. He is so perfect, in fact, that he often seems more like an angel than a human. Galahad is disliked by all but a few of Arthur’s other knights.
Morgause’s sweetest and most sensitive son. Unlike most of his brothers, Gareth loves Arthur and Lancelot.
Morgause’s oldest and strongest son. Gawaine, prone to murderous rages, is in many ways an emblem of everything that is wrong with knighthood. Despite Gawaine’s roughness, however, he is a decent man.
The first knight Arthur meets. An amiable bumbler whose lifelong quest is to hunt the Questing Beast, Pellinore becomes an accomplished knight after his marriage. Even after Pellinore is killed, his legacy of kindness lives on in his children.
Arthur’s foster brother and a knight of the Round Table. Spoiled as a child, Kay remains nasty and selfish, but is decent at heart.
Arthur’s foster father and Kay’s biological father. Sir Ector is good-natured, pompous, and boisterous. Although he often seems like a caricature, Sir Ector proves to be less foolish than we might expect.
A magical creature that only a Pellinore can hunt. The Questing Beast needs to be hunted to survive, and after a series of comic mishaps, it is hunted by Sir Palomides instead of King Pellinore.
One of Morgause’s sons. Agravaine seems to have the most problems with his mother’s promiscuity. As a child, Agravaine is the cruelest of Morgause’s sons, and he remains deceitful and cowardly throughout the novel. He is Mordred’s closest ally.
An evil knight known for his sneak attacks and ambushes. Sir Bruce always manages to avoid capture and is a recurring example of the old injustices that Arthur is trying to fight.
Lancelot’s childhood instructor. Although he is the brother of kings, Uncle Dap is Lancelot’s squire when Lancelot becomes a knight of the Round Table.
Morgause’s sister and Arthur’s half-sister. Morgan le Fay, who is most likely a fairy queen, shows up periodically to torment knights and villagers with her malicious spells.
Merlyn’s lover, who eventually traps him in a cave for centuries. Despite her faults, Nimue is basically a nice woman, and she promises to take care of Arthur on Merlyn’s behalf.
In the novel, a page whom Arthur asks to carry on the Arthurian ideals of justice. In real life, Sir Thomas Malory wrote the fifteenth-century text Le Morte d’Arthur, an account of the Arthurian legends that served as the basis for White’s novel.
The king of England during Arthur’s childhood. Uther Pendragon is actually Arthur’s father. Once Pendragon dies, the next king is determined by a trial, which Arthur wins. Thus, Arthur is eventually placed on the throne after his death.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Once and Future King!