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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES
BOOK ONE: THE SWORD IN THE STONE
Summary and Notes
Robin Wood and his band begin the go back home, forgetting about the griffin, which has not dissolved with the rest of the fairies. The griffin charges the men, and grabs Wart in its clutches. Kay kills the griffin by shooting it in the eye and saves Wart. Wart has broken his collarbone, and as the boys prepare to return home, Kay asks for the griffin’s head as a trophy. Wart asks to bring home Wat so the Merlyn can “restore him to his wits.
When the boys return home, there is a great homecoming celebration, and as Kay brags about his victory over the griffin, Wart goes in search of Merlyn.
When Wart finds Merlyn, he has already “cured” Wat by sewing a pig’s nose on the man. Wat and Dog Boy are now good friends, and will live in the kennels together.
In the chapter, there are further examples of Wart’s bravery and generosity. He shows now fear in the battle against the griffin, and recovers heroically from what should have been a very frightening experience. Moreover, his desire to cure Wat and make him likeable again (as opposed to Kay’s vain request for the griffin’s head), shows his desire for good for all people. Both of these characteristics are relevant to his reign.
Summary and Notes
Wart is confined to his bed to recover from his injuries, and as his only distraction is an ant farm, he asks Merlyn to turn him into an ant. Merlyn shows some trepidation, but agrees, asking him to place a reed between the two anthills before his transformation.
Wart is turned into an ant, and at the entrance to the ant farm there reads a sign “EVERYTHING THAT IS NOT FORBIDDEN IS COMPULSORY.” Wart does not understand the sign’s meaning, and notices that through his antennae a monotonous message that he also does not understand is transmitted. He begins to explore the terrain of the ant farm, and watches two ants chaotically and inefficiently dispose of two ant corpses. He is struck by how the ants are unable to think independently.
He desires to ask the ants questions, and finds that he cannot because ant language is too limited. The ants, for example, use only two words as modifiers: Done and Not Done.
He is discovered by an ant who quickly concludes that he is insane (Not-Done); Wart quickly covers for his ignorance by explaining that he fell on his head.
Wart then joins the “mash squad,” where he eats voraciously and eavesdrops on typical ant conversation. The ants are prevented from any meaningful communication because of constant interruptions through their antennae. He discovers the purpose of the mash squad: when any of the other ants wants a meal, it approaches Wart, opens his stomach, and eats. He feels demoralized and humiliated.
Later that day, the ants discover the reed, and a war between the two anthills ensues. There is a multitude of contradictory and inflammatory propaganda, the logic of which Wart cannot tease out. In addition, the ants are subjected to a series of broadcasts and religious services promoting the war cause and demonizing the enemy is a transparently hypocritical manner. The ants do not have the ability to react or think about the meaning of the messages.
The war begins, and Wart discovers with horror that the preparations for battle have destroyed the joy of his boyhood. At this point, Merlyn comes to his rescue.
In this chapter, Wart learns the impersonal and destructive force of war. The ant farm is a complete totalitarian regime; the ants are faceless, thoughtless soldiers and works, and are constantly violated mentally (through their antennae) and physically (through their stomachs). For Wart, it is a horrifying introduction to the nature of war from the point of view of the anonymous cadet.
As a major theme of this novel is the war and power, this is a crucial chapter. Furthermore, from the author’s own historical perspective, this section is quite moving; the reader should keep in mind that the author wrote this during the rise of Fascism and totalitarianism in Europe and on the eve of England’s entrance into the war.