The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King

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The Once and Future King Book 1, Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Wart is confined to his bedchamber for three days and howls miserably through the keyhole to Merlyn to be turned into something—even an ant! Merlyn, reluctantly, does so. The ant nest Wart finds himself in is entered by a series of tunnels. Above each tunnel, there is a notice that reads: EVERYTHING NOT FORBIDDEN IS COMPULSORY. Wart reads the sign and, not quite understanding it, instinctively dislikes it.
Wart's lesson with the ants is vitally important for his future rule. The ants have no free will, no individual thoughts. They are either forbidden from doing something, or must do it. There is no choice.
Themes
Fate (Time) Theme Icon
Might vs. Right Theme Icon
Wart slowly becomes aware of a noise in his head. The music is monotonous and the words, like June—moon—Mammy—mammy, do not vary. There is also another voice, one that shouts orders like "All two-day olds will be moved to the West Aisle." The voice is impersonal, almost as though it were dead.
The voice in his head acts as a dictatorial influence, telling Wart what he should both do and feel. This voice represents the opposite mode of rule from that practiced by England's current ruler—King Uther—whose control is felt in no part of the realm.
Themes
Fate (Time) Theme Icon
Might vs. Right Theme Icon
As he explores, Wart comes across two dead ants. Soon, a live ant arrives carrying a third corpse. Wart watches as the ant attempts, unintelligently, to arrange the bodies. He wants to ask things like "Are you a slave?" but realizes ant language does not have the words: all he can say is Done or Not Done. After the ant finishes arranging, he asks Wart what he is doing. Wart responds that he is not doing anything.
The simplicity of the ant language and their unquestioning adherence to rules illustrates a form of subjection totally alien and disgusting to Wart. This is one example of rule that makes all conform to an ideology, but conformation is determined by the limitations of expression.
Themes
Chivalry, Satire & Medieval Life Theme Icon
Fate (Time) Theme Icon
Might vs. Right Theme Icon
The live ant and the voice quickly decide Wart has fallen on his head and can't remember his role, and so assign him to 'mash squad.' Wart quickly joins the mash squad. He begins to fill himself with the sweet mash, at first delicious to him, and when he's full he moves to the inner fortress to deposit it. As they work, the mash squad talk: about how lovely their leader and nest are, how lucky they are, and so on. The remarks are always the same.
One outcome of the ant's conformity is how mundane their existence is—there is no freedom to question, but also no freedom to be original or progressive. What someone does is determined for them.
Themes
Chivalry, Satire & Medieval Life Theme Icon
Fate (Time) Theme Icon
Might vs. Right Theme Icon
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Later that afternoon, an ant from another nest wanders over the bridge to be met by a native ant and quickly killed. The broadcasts change: the voice explains that they are going to war for a variety of inconsistent reasons such as: we are numerous and starving, therefore we have a right to the others' mash; the others are more numerous and are therefore threatening, we are a mighty race and they are puny etc.
The reasons for the ant war are so inconsistent they are almost satirical. These blatantly inconsistent attempts by the voice to justify the war simply exposes how unjustified the war is—ultimately, it is simply because there is an other and the ants fear the other.
Themes
Chivalry, Satire & Medieval Life Theme Icon
Might vs. Right Theme Icon
War Theme Icon
After this, religious services begin. It is peculiar to Wart that the ants are unmoved by these broadcasts, but simply accept them as rituals. When the time for war comes, Wart is sickened by the monotonous voices of wickedness in his head. Finally, Wart finds himself back in his bed.
Wart is sickened by the ant warfare, without truly understanding why. The ant warfare—waged just for the sake of it—exposes Wart to the inconsistencies and immorality of warfare in chivalric England that Wart, at this point, still unquestioningly accepts.
Themes
Chivalry, Satire & Medieval Life Theme Icon
Might vs. Right Theme Icon
War Theme Icon