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Free Study Guide-The Once and Future King-T.H. White-Free Book Summary
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Chapter 5

Summary and Notes

Sir Ector’s castle and the surrounding estate are described in further detail. The estate is called the Castle of the Forest Sauvage, and it contains all the requisite parts of the feudal manor: a chapel, cottages, various defensive devices standard for any castle (turrets, bartizans, portcullises, etc.). The author describes this from a modern point of view, and laments how the old castles of yore have gone into decay.

The narrative then segues into Wart’s daily life within the castle, which the author calls a “paradise.” Wart busies himself by running through the castle and bothering the various workers within the manor. Wart is particularly interested in an employee named Dog Boy. He is one of the people who supposedly had his nose bitten off by Wat years ago. As a result, he is missing his nose and is the object of ridicule in the town. So he has become more comfortable with dogs than with human and is the dog trainer at the Forest Sauvage. Wart is fond and admiring of Dog Boy.

On this particular day, however, his fun is interrupted by Merlyn, who wants to begin his lessons. It is a beautiful summer day and Wart’s heart is not in learning. Wart tells Merlyn he would like to be a fish, or more specifically, a perch.

Merlyn summons Neptune, who rises out of the moat, and the god turns Wart into a perch. Wart is suddenly in the moat, and has the challenge of learning how to swim like a fish. Merlyn has also turned himself into a fish and teaches Wart how to get around easily.

At this point, there is an extended description of the underwater world and the distortion and beauty of light within. For Wart the best aspect, though, is that he is weightless.

A baby roach (a type of fish) approaches Merlyn and nervously asks for his help with his dying mother. It turns out that Merlyn is a fish doctor, and that the roaches are famously hypochondriac. Merlyn and Wart go to visit Mrs. Roach, and Merlyn cures her by singing a song.

Afterwards, as Merlyn and Wart swim along, Merlyn tells his pupil that he will take him to visit the King of the Moat to teach Wart some lessons about what it is to be king. Mr. P., the king, is a huge, melancholy, fearsome fish, and Wart is duly intimidated. The king tells Wart fiercely that Power is the only truth, that Might is Right.

The huge fish then lunges at Wart, and Merlyn saves him narrowly by turning him back into a boy.

This is the first of Wart’s lessons, and is crucial to his overall education because the fish show him the strength and tyranny of power. In addition, it is clear in the chapter that the author is writing from the 20 th century, and is writing about Wart, Ector, and et al as though they are real historical characters. White is beginning to make comparisons between Wart’s historical context and his own, which is at the beginning of the Second World War in England.

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