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In November, Sir Ector receives a letter from Uther Pendragon,
the king of England, telling him that the royal huntsman, William Twyti,
will be coming to hunt near Sir Ector’s castle that winter. Sir Ector
is expected to house Twyti, his dogs, and his men.
On Christmas night, the whole village comes to the great
hall of the castle to feast. William Twyti is there with his men.
The castle and its fields are beautiful under the snow, and everyone
is in a good mood.
Early the next morning, Twyti gathers his men
and his dogs for the hunt. With the help of Robin Wood, they find
a boar. The boar eventually rushes at Twyti, but Robin kills it
with a sword before it can harm Twyti. After the hunt, Pellinore
finds the Questing Beast lying sick on the ground and deduces that
the beast’s decline is his fault. Pellinore is guilt-ridden by the
thought that he has been resting in Sir Grummore’s castle for months
while the beast has pined away in his absence. He gathers men to
bring the Questing Beast back to Sir Ector’s castle, where he plans
to nurse it back to health so the quest can begin again.
One day in spring, Merlyn, the Wart, and Merlyn’s talking
owl, Archimedes, have a conversation. The Wart claims that the rook
is his favorite bird because it flies as though it has a sense of
humor. Archimedes says his favorite bird is the pigeon. Merlyn speculates that
the calls of birds and animals are imitations of sounds in nature.
That night, Merlyn transforms the Wart into an owl. Archimedes teaches
him to fly gracefully. Once the Wart knows how to fly, Merlyn turns
him into a goose and transports him to a vast, wet plain. The Wart
flies with other geese, looks for food, stands guard as they eat,
and meets a female goose named Lyo-lyok. She makes fun of his strange
behavior, and the Wart tells her that he is really a human. He shocks
her by wondering out loud whether they are guarding against an attack
by other geese. Lyo-lyok tells him that the idea of two
groups of the same species killing each other is unthinkable, since there
are already predators outside of their species and since there are no
boundaries or territories in the air that can be fought over.
The Wart learns about the geese’s society from Lyo-lyok.
The geese have no private property or laws, and their leaders are
selected on the basis of their ability to navigate. Soon the time
for migration comes, and on their first day of flight, they travel
to Norway. The Wart wakes up in his human form to hear Kay, with
whom the Wart shares a bed, telling him he snores like a goose.
King Pellinore’s discovery of the sick Questing Beast
in this section satirizes the futility of the knightly quest and
makes such quests seem endearing. Hunting the Questing Beast is
not only Pellinore’s mission in life, but also the mission of his
entire family. His discovery of the sick beast, however, demonstrates
that he does not really desire to accomplish this goal. Rather than
kill the beast and bring the Pellinore dynasty to its final triumph,
Pellinore nurses the beast back to health so the chase can continue.
In doing so, Pellinore seems to be a somewhat ridiculous figure,
more interested in the sense of purpose that the quest brings to
his life than in actually accomplishing this purpose. It is hard,
however, to fault him for his tenderness toward the creature. As
silly as it is for him to keep on hunting when he could finally
end his mission, it would be heartless for him to slay the ailing,
heartbroken beast. It is interesting too that the bumbling Pellinore,
usually so shy and maladjusted, seizes control of the situation
here and becomes an assertive, almost admirable figure. This episode
suggests that Pellinore’s quest is foolish but that he is somehow
noble in pursuing it.
The boar hunt is significant because the narrative returns
to Kay’s quest, during which the novel’s morals and philosophy are
set aside in favor of a more traditional adventure tale. The boar
hunt is an opportunity for White to portray genuine medieval life
and has none of the fantastic elements that populate the rest of
the story. The animals do not talk, there are no fairies, and neither
griffins nor crows threaten Kay or the Wart. This hunt is described
in realistic terms and inspires strong emotions. Twyti cries over
the death of one of his hunting dogs, and his sadness is believable.
This death has more emotional impact than the violence during the
Wart’s fantastic and surreal adventures. Much like White himself,
Twyti lives for his dogs, whose company he clearly values above
that of humans; the death of his beloved hound is as heart-wrenching
for him as the death of any of his hunters. By taking us outside
of the novel’s fantasy world, the boar hunt reminds us that there
is life outside of Sir Ector’s lands and that the land is ruled
by a real king.
The Wart’s adventure with the geese presents him with
a model of society that is nearly the opposite of the one he experiences
during his visit to the ant colony. Like the ants, the geese are
communal, since they share all property and work, but they elect
their leaders, and their communal life does not threaten individual
expression. When the Wart mentions the idea of a war among geese,
the idea is so foreign to them that it takes a while for Lyo-lyok
even to understand what he means. Whereas we can interpret the ant
colony as White’s attack on the repression of communist societies,
the geese espouse a sort of democratic socialism, in which a group
of individuals all act in one another’s best interests. The novel
does not draw any explicit conclusions from these examples but simply
presents how they function and what results. Like the Wart, we are
expected to draw our own conclusions about which society seems the
best and most practical.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Once and Future King!