The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King Book 1, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After a while, Kay loses his temper and returns home, leaving Wart to retrieve the hawk. As Cully flies from tree to tree, Wart tracks him deeper into the forest. Soon Wart finds himself farther from the castle than he's ever been before—on the edge of the true forest, one of the great forests of Old England; filled with wild boars, wolves, wicked animals, and outlaws.
Wart acts valiantly and is the true chivalrous figure because he stays with the hawk; yet we know that Kay will become a knight and Wart only his squire—White's emphasis on the discrepancies between the two characters illustrates the superficiality of knighthood.
Themes
Chivalry, Satire & Medieval Life Theme Icon
Might vs. Right Theme Icon
As it gets dark, Wart curls up at the foot of the tree that Cully has settled in. Just as Wart is drifting off, he hears a rapid whirr and finds an arrow between the fingers of his right hand. Wart quickly hides behind the tree as another arrow buries its feathers in the grass. Wart finds he is not afraid of his attacker but he soon realizes that now he has lost Cully and wanders off aimlessly through the forest. He comes upon a clearing; suddenly a knight appears in full armor. He is mounted on an enormous white horse and carries a jousting lance in his right hand. All was moonlight, silver and too beautiful to describe.
Wart is now truly on a quest of his own, lost in the woods and yet fearless. This encounter is Wart's first meeting with a knight dressed in full armor. White's description of the knight is idealized and romanticized; the knight is depicted as unearthly because all his features are disguised and his sudden appearance seems magical.
Themes
Chivalry, Satire & Medieval Life Theme Icon
Quest and The Holy Grail Theme Icon
Wart approaches the knight, who jumps and raises his visor, revealing a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles. He tries to wipe his glasses, only to drop his lance and then have his visor fall down accidentally. When Wart reveals that he is lost, the knight responds that he too is lost. He says that his name is King Pellinore and he's been chasing the Questing Beast for seventeen years.
The romanticized image of the knight falls apart because of King Pellinore's comedic portrayal—he is clumsy and wearing spectacles. By emphasizing his clownish actions, King Pellinore is a parody of the chivalrous knight and thus begins to subvert our expectations of the knightly ideal.
Themes
Chivalry, Satire & Medieval Life Theme Icon
Fate (Time) Theme Icon
Quest and The Holy Grail Theme Icon
The Questing Beast, according to King Pellinore, has the head of a serpent, the body of a leopard, and the haunches of a lion. King Pellinore, growing sadder, says he hasn't seen the beast for eight months and never has anywhere warm to sleep. Wart invites Pellinore back to Sir Ector's castle where he could get a warm bed, hoping Pellinore would know the way. Pellinore is excited at the prospect of a feather bed and soft pillows.
The 'questing beast' is representative of the entire questing genre: White conflates the journey component of the quest with the goal itself. Moreover the questing beast is itself a convoluted conflation of many different magical creatures. More absurd, King Pellinore will never catch the "questing beast" and so the endeavor becomes a game simply for the sake of questing.
Themes
Chivalry, Satire & Medieval Life Theme Icon
Quest and The Holy Grail Theme Icon
War Theme Icon
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Suddenly, they hear a loud noise. Sure it's the Questing Beast, Pellinore grabs his lance and gallops after it. He quickly gets tangled in a tree, but frees himself and disappears into the gloom, leaving Wart alone.
King Pellinore's commitment to his quest wavers—he contemplates leaving it simply for a bed before once more getting caught up in the excitement. This lackadaisical commitment subverts both the knightly ideal and the questing genre (to which knights typically enact an almost religious commitment).
Themes
Chivalry, Satire & Medieval Life Theme Icon
Quest and The Holy Grail Theme Icon