The Once and Future King

by: T. H. White

Book II: “The Queen of Air and Darkness,” Chapters 11–14

Summary Book II: “The Queen of Air and Darkness,” Chapters 11–14

Family ties are generally viewed as an integral source of support for a struggling monarch, but Arthur’s seduction by Morgause reveals that family can be a source of destruction. Until now, Morgause’s connection to Arthur has been murky. There are hints, earlier in the novel, that they are related, but White hopes that Morgause’s relation to Arthur will be as much of a mystery to us as it is to Arthur. We have seen Morgause only as the cruel mother of four unruly boys and the seductive hostess of several silly English knights. Suddenly, however, she is revealed to be Arthur’s half-sister. This news does not bring about a reconciliation between them but rather transforms Morgause into a figure of destruction. Although Arthur’s reign has barely begun and is yet to see its most glorious years, his affair with Morgause is the first step in the reign’s collapse. The incest is not intentional, at least not on Arthur’s part, but it is a sin so grave that ultimately he cannot escape punishment for it. Arthur’s project to build a just and lawful kingdom is doomed before it even begins. This tragedy is heightened by the fact that his downfall is brought about by his own friends and family. The instruments of Arthur’s destruction are Morgause, his half-sister; Agravaine and Mordred, his nephews; Guenever, his wife; and Lancelot, his best friend.