Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$18.74 /subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
on 2-49 accounts
on 50-99 accounts
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews March 7, 2024
February 29, 2024
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
Annual Plan - Group Discount
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at email@example.com. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
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?
The two books between the Book I and Book IV provide a bridge from the lightheartedness of the Wart’s adventures in the Forest Sauvage to King Arthur’s final despair. This transition is enormous but gradual. In Book II, the world of Orkney is grim, but this grimness is offset by the antics of Sir Pellinore, Sir Grummore, and Sir Palomides. In Book III, the tone becomes darker, but the book also has a triumphant tone during the narration of Lancelot’s adventures.
While the tone drastically changes from Book I to Book IV, the themes and ideas expressed in these two books are similar. King Arthur, a simpleminded and optimistic man in Book IV, still has the childhood naïveté he shows in Book I. Also, the frivolity of knighthood appears in the first and last books. For example, King Pellinore’s refusal to kill his beloved Questing Beast is as pointless and silly a gesture as the trials by combat that appear in the fourth book. White also continues to point to the future in both books with his insinuations that Arthur’s reign will not last.
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?
The quest for the Holy Grail is Arthur’s attempt to get his knights to use their aggression productively. Once the knights have no more good deeds or chivalric acts to perform, they do not know what to do with their power. Arthur wants the restless knights to fight for a noble cause and therefore assigns them to fight for God. The quest is successful in that it occupies the knights for some time and even achieves its goal when the pious Sir Galahad finds the Holy Grail. The quest for the Holy Grail, however, has disastrous effects on Arthur’s court. Half of the knights are killed during the quest, and those who succeed on the quest disappear because they have reached perfection. The few knights who return unharmed do not seem to have learned anything from their adventure and are upset over the loss of their comrades. After the quest, the surviving knights are still just as bloodthirsty as they were when they started the quest, and they are certainly no holier or closer to God.
White does not focus on the quest for the Holy Grail in his novel in part because it is a detour in Arthur’s progress toward justice as the basis of civilization. Like Arthur’s attempt to use war on behalf of justice, the quest for the Holy Grail is his attempt to use war to serve God. Only later does Arthur realize that this goal asks too much, since it requires people to abandon their bad side instead of using it productively.
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?
The end of the novel describes Arthur’s personal beliefs and individual thoughts about war and justice, one of the few times that White lets us see what Arthur is thinking. For the most part, even in Book I, Arthur’s inner needs, thoughts, and concerns remain mysterious, and it is hard to gauge his commitment to his principles. Throughout the novel, we hear him repeat Merlyn’s ideas and beliefs about government and power, and once Nimue captures Merlyn, Arthur’s beliefs no longer develop. It would appear that Arthur is unable to generate ideas without the help of his mentor, but in Book IV, Arthur does arrive at some original conclusions. For example, he concludes that national boundaries are the source of conflicts and that if they could be abolished, war would disappear as well. This idea about the nature of conflict seems to be his own, which suggests that Arthur does finally learn to think for himself. Unfortunately, however, Arthur’s timing is poor. Now that he has developed his own ideas, he will die the next day. Even if he were not to die, he would still be too powerless to implement any of his ideas. The futility of his situation undermines the significance of his last thoughts.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Once and Future King!