The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King


T. H. White

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Themes and Colors
Chivalry, Satire & Medieval Life Theme Icon
Fate (Time) Theme Icon
Quest and The Holy Grail Theme Icon
Might vs. Right Theme Icon
War Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Once and Future King, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Chivalry, Satire & Medieval Life

The myth of King Arthur has been recounted in many different texts—including Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, Chrétien de Troyes' Four Arthurian Romances and Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. In all these accounts, knights are depicted as heroic and highly chivalrous: knights are bound to the chivalric code and are portrayed as honorable, loyal noblemen. The chivalric code is a code of conduct associated with the medieval tradition of knighthood; the code entails…

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Fate (Time)

Fate is a power that predetermines the course of all events. In The Once and Future King, fate plays an integral role. White, thinly disguised as the narrator, very consciously recounts the tale of King Arthur from a contemporary perspective—thus, the narrator regularly cites modern technologies or recent historical events, such as World War II. The narrator is very present in the novel; the voice comments subjectively upon the action within the text and gives…

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Quest and The Holy Grail

The Quest is a traditional literary device. In literature, a quest is a journey towards a goal and can serves as a plot device or as a symbol. In a quest, the hero must overcome many obstacles and the quest usually requires extensive travel and a series of trials to test the knight's valor and piety. One of the most famous quests in literature is that for the Holy Grail in Arthurian legend.

The first…

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Might vs. Right

In The Once and Future King, Arthur is not depicted as a traditional heroic figure—the chivalrous, military hero—but as a political innovator. Throughout his rule, Arthur seeks to temper force and strength ('might') with justice ('right'). In the novel, these two words are symbolic for the warring forces Arthur unsuccessfully attempts to control.

Merlyn's early lessons for young Wart are vehicles to teach Arthur about the correct parameters for ruling; they are to…

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War occupies a central role in The Once and Future King. The Medieval England depicted in the novel is almost a perpetual battlefield, with multiple political factions vying for power. Indeed, war is canonical in the Arthurian myth; however battle scenes are barely described in this text, and when they are, White presents war as something barbaric and violent, rather than heroic and justified.

The first presentation of war is during one of Wart

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