The Buried Giant

by

Kazuo Ishiguro

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King Arthur Character Analysis

King Arthur was king of the Britons and led them in a bloody civil war against the Saxons living in England. He gets Axl, who had been a great diplomat in his youth, to create a treaty banning both Britons and Saxons from entering the other’s village to slaughter women, children, and the elderly during battles when the men were away. However, King Arthur decided to break the treaty and send men to kill an entire village full of Saxon women and children. King Arthur did this believing that he was preventing future wars by robbing Saxons of their future: their children would never grow into adults to avenge their fathers and their women were killed to prevent new generations from being born. Knowing that he had crossed a line, King Arthur also ordered Sir Gawain and a group of knights to find and trap Querig so Merlin could cast a spell on the dragon’s breath so that anyone who breathed this mist would lose their memories of the past. King Arthur did this because he believed it would establish peace long enough that the generations who had fought would die of old age and leave behind the younger generation that had not been alive during the war, thus establishing eternal peace. While the Britons remember Arthur as a great king, the Saxons remember him as a traitor and villain.

King Arthur Quotes in The Buried Giant

The The Buried Giant quotes below are all either spoken by King Arthur or refer to King Arthur. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Buried Giant published in 2015.
Chapter 5 Quotes

“Even so, sir, isn’t it a strange thing when a man calls another brother who only yesterday slaughtered his children? And yet this is the very thing Arthur appears to have accomplished.”

“You touch the heart of it just there, Master Wistan. Slaughter children, you say. And yet Arthur charged us at all times to spare the innocents caught in the clatter of war. More, sir, he commanded us to rescue and give sanctuary when we could to all women, children and elderly, be they Briton or Saxon. On such actions were bonds of trust built, even as battles raged.”

Related Characters: Wistan (speaker), Sir Gawain (speaker), King Arthur
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

“What are you suggesting, sir? Skulls? I saw no skulls! And what if there are a few old bones here? What of it, is that anything extraordinary? Aren’t we underground? But I saw no bed of bones, I don’t know what you suggest, Master Axl. Were you there, sir? Did you stand beside the great Arthur? I’m proud to say I did, sir, and he was a commander as merciful as he was gallant. Yes, indeed, it was I who came to the abbot to warn of Master Wistan’s identity and intentions, what choice had I? Was I to guess how dark the hearts of holy men could turn? Your suggestions are unwarranted, sir! An insult to all who ever stood alongside the great Arthur! There are no beds of bones here!”

Related Characters: Sir Gawain (speaker), Axl, King Arthur
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

“What do you suggest, mistress? That I committed this slaughter?” He said this tiredly, with none of the anger he had shown earlier in the tunnel, but there was a peculiar intensity in his voice. “So many skulls, you say. Yet are we not underground? What is it you suggest? Can just one knight of Arthur have killed so many?” He turned back to the gate and ran a finger along one of the bars. “Once, years ago, in a dream, I watched myself killing the enemy. It was in my sleep and long ago. The enemy, in their hundreds, perhaps as many as this. I fought and I fought. Just a foolish dream, but I still recall it.” He sighed, then looked at Beatrice. “I hardly know how to answer you, mistress. I acted as I thought would please God.”

Related Characters: Sir Gawain (speaker), The Narrator / The Boatman (speaker), Beatrice, King Arthur
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:
Gawain’s First Reverie Quotes

“Master Axl, what was done in these Saxon towns today my uncle would have commanded only with a heavy heart, knowing of no other way for peace to prevail. Think, sir. Those small Saxon boys you lament would soon have become warriors burning to avenge their fathers fallen today. The small girls soon bearing more in their wombs, and this circle of slaughter would never be broken. Look how deep runs the lust for vengeance! […] Yet with today’s great victory a rare chance comes. We may once and for all sever this evil circle, and a great king must act boldly on it. May this be a famous day, Master Axl, from which our land can be in peace for years to come.”

“I fail to understand you, sir. […] This circle of hate is hardly broken, sir, but forged instead in iron by what’s done today.”

Related Characters: Axl (speaker), Sir Gawain (speaker), King Arthur
Page Number: 213-214
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

“There are Britons who tempt our respect, even our love, I know this only too well. But there are now greater things press on us than what each may feel for another. It was Britons under Arthur slaughtered our kind. It was Britons took your mother and mine. We’ve a duty to hate every man, woman and child of their blood. So promise me this. Should I fall before I pass to you my skills, promise me you’ll tend well this hatred in your heart. And should it ever flicker or threaten to die, shield it with care till the flame takes hold again.”

Related Characters: Wistan (speaker), Edwin, King Arthur
Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

“Will you not understand the acts of a great king, sir? We can only watch and wonder. A great king, like God himself, must perform deeds mortals flinch from! […] Who calls me a coward, sir? Or a slaughterer of babes? Where were you that day? Were you with us?”

Related Characters: Sir Gawain (speaker), Axl, King Arthur
Page Number: 275
Explanation and Analysis:

“A dark man he may have been, but in this he did God’s will, not only Arthur’s. Without this she-dragon’s breath, would peace ever have come? Look how we live now, sir! Old foes as cousins, village by village. Master Wistan, you fall silent before this sight. […] Her breath isn’t what it was, yet holds the magic even now. Think, sir, once that breath should cease, what might be awoken across this land even after these years! Yes, we slaughtered plenty, I admit it, caring not who was strong and who weak. God may not have smiled at us, but we cleansed the land of war. Leave this place, sir, I beg you.”

Related Characters: Sir Gawain (speaker), Wistan, King Arthur, Querig, Merlin
Page Number: 285
Explanation and Analysis:
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King Arthur Character Timeline in The Buried Giant

The timeline below shows where the character King Arthur appears in The Buried Giant. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...face Querig and Ivor tells her there’s an old knight from the days of King Arthur who says his plan is to slay the dragon, but he doubts that “the old... (full context)
Chapter 5
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...he’s a knight, but only carries his sword and armor “out of duty” to King Arthur, who died many years before. As they get closer, Axl notes that the knight is,... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...is none other than Sir Gawain. The knight confirms that he is, and that King Arthur had been his uncle. Wistan tells Sir Gawain that even though he’s a Saxon, he... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Wistan asks Sir Gawain if he receives the same respect as a knight of King Arthur in areas where Arthur “was once such a dreaded enemy.” Sir Gawain assures him that... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...be happy to tell his king as much. Wistan also asks Sir Gawain how King Arthur brought peace to the land. Sir Gawain says that the people who were conquered by... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...says he doesn’t see why anyone would be against it. Sir Gawain explains that King Arthur had entrusted the slaying of the dragon to Sir Gawain himself, and he doesn’t want... (full context)
Chapter 7
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...being witnesses to their crimes. Sir Gawain assures them that he, as a knight of Arthur, can keep them safe from the monster and that Ninian told him the tunnel had... (full context)
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...insists he saw no bones and asks Axl if he ever stood “beside the great Arthur,” because Sir Gawain had. Sir Gawain then admits that he told the abbot about Wistan... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...answer, but says he must go to Horace. Axl tells him the talk of King Arthur “stirs long-faded thoughts,” but Sir Gawain simply tells him to go to his son and... (full context)
Gawain’s First Reverie
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...happy even though it “br[ought] back a heavy task.” Sir Gawain thinks that even King Arthur would be impressed with Wistan’s abilities, but Gawain also thinks he had noticed a weakness... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...Axl would dwell on this and Axl reminded him that he had “befriended” them “in Arthur’s name” and was known as the Knight of Peace in some places. Sir Gawain told... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Denial and Rewriting History Theme Icon
...hadn’t been there, and even if he was, that it wasn’t his place to question Arthur’s decisions. Sir Gawain thinks that when his time comes, he will “greet the boatman contentedly”... (full context)
Chapter 15
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
Sir Gawain asks if it’s not possible that Axl’s decision “wasn’t the more godly,” leaving Arthur and investing himself in his marriage to Beatrice. Sir Gawain wonders if it wouldn’t have... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...be there soon and then tells Axl that he remembers the night Axl cursed at Arthur in front of the other knights, who had kept their heads lowered. Sir Gawain asks... (full context)
Memory, Truth and Justice Theme Icon
War, Peace, Vengeance, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...comrades,” and children were growing up only knowing war. Axl remembers “God himself betrayed” by Arthur’s betrayal of a treaty that Axl had brokered. Sir Gawain says that he had initially... (full context)