The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King Book 3, Chapter 10 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Uncle Dap examines Lancelot’s helm (helmet), which is badly torn. He declares that while it’s “honourable” to have a torn helm (since it suggests one has just been in combat), it’s “boastful” and “dishonourable to keep it so when there is an opportunity to replace it.” Lancelot simply answers, “yes.” Uncle Dap then asks Lancelot if he’s enjoying his sword, which was fashioned by “Galand, the greatest sword-smith of the Middle Ages.” Again, Lancelot just answers, “yes.” Exasperated, Uncle Dap asks Lancelot if he can say anything besides “yes.”
Uncle Dap’s meditations on “honourable” and “dishonourable” behavior in regards to something as trivial as a helm (a knight’s helmet) shows how chivalry is performative, made up of numerous esoteric and arbitrary rules. The detail about Lancelot’s sword being crafted by “Galand, the greatest sword-smith of the Middle Ages” points to the theme of fate and time, as the story steps out of its medieval setting and looks back on the Middle Ages as a whole, informing readers like a history book of who was the best sword-maker.
Themes
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Fate (Time) Theme Icon
Finally, Lancelot reveals what’s been on his mind, as he asks Uncle Dap, “Is Guenever in love with me?” The narrator interjects, noting that while a modern man might just sleep with Guenever despite her marriage to King Arthur—“or run away with his hero’s wife altogether”—Lancelot’s situation is different. Firstly, he’s a Christian, and his religion “directly forbade him to seduce his best friend’s wife.” Furthermore, Lancelot is a firm believer in King Arthur’s concepts of chivalry and civilization—that is, “that there was such a thing as Right.” Lancelot’s whole childhood centered around training to be a knight “and thinking out King Arthur’s theory for himself.”
The narrator’s interjection contains a humorous yet sharp critique of contemporary social norms and what constitutes as permissive behavior in modern times. The narrator implies that modern-day Christians shouldn’t “seduce [their] best friend’s wife” either, as Christianity prohibits such a thing now as much as it did in the Middle Ages. In underscoring Lancelot’s loyalty to his religion—and his commitment to “right” over “might”—White also sets Lancelot apart from his womanizing reputation that abounds elsewhere in the Arthurian canon.
Themes
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Fate (Time) Theme Icon
Might vs. Right Theme Icon
The third roadblock Lancelot faces in his pining for Guenever is “the impediment of his nature.” Although he deeply loves Guenever and King Arthur, Lancelot loathes himself. Everyone always lauds him as the best knight in the world and assumes he must have an elevated self-esteem to match; in actuality, beneath his “grotesque, magnificent shell” is “shame and self-loathing,” which has been stewing within him since he was just a child. It’s impossible to trace back who or what instilled those feelings in him because it’s “so fatally easy to make young children believe that they are horrible.” Uncle Dap interrupts Lancelot’s brooding and tells him that the entire situation “depends very largely on” how Guenever feels.
This passage complicates the notion that knights are perfect, larger-than-life figures who strut around with inflated egos. Lancelot is a complex and human character, and the “shame and self-loathing” he harbors seem inexplicable to anyone on the outside. Even though White largely seeks to satirize chivalry and medieval life, here he paints Lancelot with realistic and sympathetic strokes.
Themes
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