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 3 Summary & Analysis

Wart sleeps in the forest. When he wakes he hears a sound and goes in search of it. Soon he finds a stone cottage in a clearing, and sees a very old man drawing water from a well. The man is dressed in a gown covered in zodiac signs and other symbols, is wearing a pointed hat, and carries a wand. As Wart approaches, the old man says, "Your name would be the Wart," and introduces himself as Merlyn
Wart's first meeting with Merlyn immediately draws attention to Merlyn's magical powers and the way Merlyn will call into question our notions of fate and time—here Merlyn already knew Wart's name and knew that they would meet that morning.
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Merlyn invites Wart into his cottage, in which there is a breakfast set for two. The room is full of books, lion claws, and other extraordinary objects. Merlyn takes off his hat to reveal a tawny, talking owl named Archimedes. As they eat, Wart asks Merlyn how he knew to set breakfast for two. Merlyn responds by asking Wart if he's ever tried to draw in a mirror, which, after Merlyn makes a mirror magically appear, turns out to be quite difficult. Ordinary people, Merlyn explains, are born forwards in Time. Merlyn, however, was born the wrong way in Time—he ages backwards, which is like trying to draw in a mirror.
Now, we are fully introduced to Merlyn's peculiar relationship with time: by living time backwards, Merlyn already knows what will happen (or, for him, what has already happened). Traditionally, fate plays an integral role in the Arthurian myth; yet, here, Wart's future is not necessarily dictated by fate but rather by its own mythicism. For Merlyn, as for us, Arthur has already lived and we know what will happen because of the myth—thus it is not some grander force at play, but rather pre-conceived knowledge.
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Related Quotes
After breakfast, Merlyn declares that it's high time they returned to Sir Ector. Wart is surprised, and then astonished and excited when Merlyn reveals that he is going to be Wart's tutor. "My," Wart exclaims, "I must have been on a quest!"
Wart accomplishes the quest set for him in Chapter 1—without him truly knowing he was on a quest.
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