Analysis: Chapters 20–24

The Wart’s encounter with the hedgehog is the first time that the Wart, in any form, is stronger or more powerful than anybody else, and he has his first experience of tyranny in this episode. Until now, it has always been in the Wart’s best interests to disagree with the concept of absolute power, since he is always one of the weakest beings in his world, whether he is a hawk, fish, goose, or human. Now that the Wart is finally in a position to bully somebody, he seems to be on the verge of indulging the same habits against which Merlyn has tried to warn him. When he first encounters the little hedgehog, the Wart is not at all hungry, but his general chagrin at Kay’s attitude and Merlyn’s departure causes him to threaten the little hedgehog with immediate death. Eventually, however, the Wart’s innate sense of decency takes over, and he agrees not to eat the hedgehog. The episode is played for laughs—the hedgehog’s pathetic whines are quite ridiculous—and White does not try to draw too much of a moral out of this precursor to the chapter’s main encounter. Nonetheless, this encounter reveals the corrupting effect that absolute power can have on even the most well-meaning individuals. The fact that Arthur is able to resist the lure of power bodes well for the many people Arthur soon comes to rule.

The Wart learns a few more valuable lessons during his conversations with the badger. As the badger relates his parable about how man came to dominate the animal kingdom, he also relates the importance of being content with what one has instead of coveting the abilities or position of others. This is an important lesson for the Wart, who is terribly dejected by the thought that Kay will become a knight while he will have to remain a squire. The badger also notes, however, that humanity has not handled its responsibilities well, and he hints that even unexpected gifts should be handled with caution. The freedom to do anything—the kind of freedom that a king of England has—must be accompanied by a sense of responsibility to do the right thing. The Wart learns that to be a good leader he must make ethical, rational decisions that benefit the greater good of his people. Like the other lessons Wart learns from his adventures, these lessons do not seem to have anything to do with his life right now, but they become important when the Wart unexpectedly becomes king.

The events in the narrative of the final chapters occur quickly. The story jumps ahead six years; Kay is knighted, King Uther dies, Merlyn leaves, and the Wart pulls the sword out of the stone and becomes the next king. The previous chapters move at an almost methodical pace, paying attention to many seemingly trivial conversations and events. It is surprising, therefore, that the plot moves at such speed in the final chapters, as these chapters include such important events as Kay’s knighting and Arthur’s coronation. The rapid pace, however, reflects how sudden and unexpected the Wart’s coming to the throne is. The fact that so much changes so quickly also seems to indicate that Arthur’s becoming king of England will mean huge changes not just for Arthur, but for the country as well.