The Once and Future King

by: T. H. White

Book I: “The Sword and the Stone,” Chapters 1–4

The early interactions between Kay and the Wart set the stage for our understanding of the boys as they grow, and White makes sure we can empathize with them. The first few chapters are peppered with incidents that help us get an understanding of these two complicated characters. Kay, after losing Cully, angrily states that Hob is only a servant whose feelings are irrelevant, and then he storms off. Wart, on the other hand, spends the night in the forest to find Hob’s bird. The Wart seems very much like the good-natured, marginalized stepchild so common in English literature, always decent and eager to please. It is interesting that the Wart is not particularly courageous or full of bravado; rather, he simply does what needs to be done to set things right no matter how frightened he is. Kay, on the other hand, is less pleasant. His actions reveal that he is a spoiled and angry child, so used to having his own superiority asserted for him that he cannot stand to have it challenged. However, he also seems to be a victim of circumstance, since he constantly veers between the haughtiness that his title requires and his own kind heart. He belittles the Wart only when the Wart earns too much praise. Kay’s selfish delight in the hunting knife that Merlyn gives him is a touching reminder that Kay’s behavior is typical among children his age.