The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King


T. H. White

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The Once and Future King: Book 1, Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

It is now early Spring. The Questing Beast—after being nourished with hot milk—had bounded off into the snow weeks ago, to be followed two hours later by King Pellinore. Merlyn, in his tower with Wart, asks him what he would like to be. Wart wants to be a bird. Merlyn, Archimedes and Wart proceed to argue over which is the best bird—Archimedes prefers the pigeon because she is a kind of Quaker, dutiful and wise; while Merlyn prefers both the chaffinch and the kestrel—the kestrel because they are the origin of bird language.
White describes, only briefly, the re-pursuit of the Questing Beast by King Pellinore; but, his description emphasizes the comedy of the scene—with Pellinore allowing the Beast a two-hour head-start and the Beast being careful not to leave tracks. Archimedes preference for the staunchly non-violent "Quaker" pigeon is interesting in violent Medieval England, while Merlyn's preference for the bird that originated bird language may be related to his interest in learning and magic.
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