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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES
BOOK ONE: THE SWORD IN THE STONE
Summary and Notes
King Pellinore arrives at the castle with the news the King Uther Pendragon has died. There is general mourning and weeping, and then Pellinore reminds the men that the King has no heir or next-of-kin. However, a sword has appeared in a stone outside of a church, and on the stone is written: “Whoso Pulleth Out This Sword of the Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of All England.” The men are excited by this news.
There have been tournaments and lines of men from all over England trying to pull the sword out of the stone, and no one has yet succeeded. Ector makes the sudden decision that they should all go to London for the big tournaments and give the sword a shot. Pellinore, Grummore, and Kay all agree.
At this point in the conversation Merlyn and Wart enter. It is worth noting that Wart hasn’t heard anything about the sword in the stone.
Merlyn announces that he is leaving the Forest Sauvage because Kay is to be knighted and Wart is his squire, and so there is no tutoring left for him to do. All of the members of the room are saddened by the news and with that, Merlyn dematerializes, taking Archimedes with him.
Wart is despondent.
Summary and Notes
The preparations for Kay’s knighting gain speed. The members of the castle get ready for the trip to London. The author notes how difficult travel was in the 12 th century, and how different from today. The roads are ill-or not-constructed, and since the population is so scant, there are few places to stay.
Ector owns a bit of land in London, at an inn, and the five men sleep there. Kay is unable to sleep because of nerves about the tournament the following day.
The tournament grounds are majestic and radically different in scope and scale than what the boys are used to. Kay realizes as they approach the grounds, that in his nervousness, he has forgotten his sword. He condescendingly tells Wart (“my squire”) to do it, and offers him a shilling if he is prompt.
Wart is furious, but does it anyway. Unfortunately, the inn is shuttered, and Wart is at a loss.
Suddenly he spies the sword in the stone, and, ignorant of its significance, decides that it might be all right if he borrowed the sword. As he grasps the sword in his hands, everything becomes very clear, and he is completely aware of his senses, as one is at momentous events. He sees every detail in the buildings, hears music, and feels the presence of people and animals surrounding him.
The sword is difficult to pull out, and on his third try, he notices all of his friends from his transformations into animals are there: the badgers and fish, geese, and owls. Each animal tells him to use the body part (arms, shoulders, back, etc.) that is especially highly developed in that species; each species gives him kind words of encouragement as he tries to pull the sword out of the stone. Wart asks Merlyn for help, and all of the animals join in. On the third try, Wart pulls the sword out of the stone gently.
Wart goes back to Kay at the tournament and gives him the sword. Kay notes that it is not his and asks Wart where he got it. Wart tells him, and Kay nearly faints, but then recovers quickly and tells Ector that it is his, that he pulled it out of the sword.
Ector clearly does not believe Kay, and takes him back to the stone and asks him pointedly whether he is telling the truth. Kay succumbs and confesses that Wart pulled out the sword.
Ector kneels down in front of Wart and asks for his blessing, which makes Wart terribly upset, and he bursts into tears.
This is obviously the climactic chapter, when Wart becomes King of all England, and thus King Arthur. Most readers, familiar with the Disney version of this book, will not be surprised by the ending, but may be surprised by the integration of all of the animals and the moving nature of this section. Everything Wart has learned from Merlyn comes into play here, and it is clear that Merlyn’s first “test” is whether Wart listened to the badger. He is expected to use each of the tools that the various species had developed in order to succeed in pulling the sword out of the stone.
On a smaller note, the conflict between Kay and Wart is resolved in this chapter, after it hits a discouraging and pathetic high (or low) when Kay offers Wart money to fetch his sword. Kay has a moment of weakness when he discovers that Wart is king, but, as his good nature should dictate, he relents and does the right thing. It is notable that Ector kneels in front of the young king, but Kay does too; Kay after all is not the villain of the story, and this will become clearer in the next book. Any conflict that has passed between the two boys is nothing but sibling antagonism.
Summary and Notes
There is a splendid coronation, which the author skims over, and all of the characters of Book One send appropriate and sentimental presents.
Merlyn is summoned in the last paragraphs and explains to Wart that he is Uther Pendragon’s son and Merlyn himself carried him from the royal residence to Ector’s castle when Wart was an infant. Merlyn explains that he wasn’t allowed to tell him before, but now that he can, he will be by Wart’s side for a long time.
In the previous chapter, the author tied up his loose ends by integrating Wart’s success with the lessons the animals had taught him. In this chapter, he quickly reviews all of the major characters of Book One, and describers the presents they have sent Wart for his coronation. Finally, appropriately, Merlyn is reintroduced, and he explains the circumstances of Wart’s birth and reassures Wart of his role in his life; this is a natural segue into Book Two; Merlyn’s guidance is the key.