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Free Study Guide-The Once and Future King-T.H. White-Free Book Summary
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Chapter 8

Summary and Notes

It is a rainy day, and Wart is thwarted in his attempts to play; he is a nuisance to the other inhabitants in the castle and besides is in a foul mood. He begs Merlyn to turn him into a hawk in Hob’s mews. Merlyn denies his request temporarily to explain to him the hawk’s life. The structure of hawk government is a military one, and the hawks are hungry, strict, forbidding lot. After warning Wart, Merlyn turns him into a merlin, a small hawk. The physical transformation of Wart into a merlin is detailed.

Merlyn gives Wart a set of rules for the mews. First, do not talk until spoken to. Merlyn explains that he will put him with two of the nicer birds Balan and Balin. Also, don’t go near the falcon. Furthernmore, do not go near Cully as he has been insane since his misadventure in the forest.

Wart enters the dark, intimidating mews, and is impressed by the birds’ magnificence. The nightly meeting begins with a bell, and is punctuated by Cully’s insane mutterings in the corner. The peregrine falcon begins to question Wart, who is the “new officer.” Balan, a fellow merlin, is very helpful to Wart during the interrogation. The peregrine quizzes Wart by asking him about the codes and laws of the mews. Wart squeaks by using his wits.

The peregrine then swears Wart in, and the senior birds decided that he should have a sort of hazing or “ordeal” in order to become a true member of the mews. The test is that he must stand next to Cully, but Wart responds that he cannot do that, as he was warned not to. The birds become immediately suspicious, and Wart relents. Before the ordeal takes place, the entire mew sings a patriotic hymn.

Wart is then forced to stand next to Cully for three tolls of a bell. Cully desperately warns Wart not to go near him because he cannot control his murderous instincts. Wart is terrified, but passes the ordeal by realizing that Cully is weaker than he and deserves his mercy rather than fear. Wart, triumphant, is lauded by the rest of the birds.

The third of Wart’s lessons teaches him simultaneously the importance of thinking on one’s feet, mercy and bravery. The author continues his criticism of the knighthood and the military in general in his unkind depiction of the rituals and rules of the mews. The reader should the development of Wart’s “kingly” personality; he is cultivating many of the characteristics a good king should have.

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