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Free Study Guide-The Once and Future King-T.H. White-Free Book Summary
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Chapter 2

Summary and Notes

Arthur and Merlyn stand at the top of his castle overlooking the lands. A short description is given of the activity below and then of Arthur’s appearance: he has an “stupid” face, which is to say too trusting.

Arthur remarks that a battle that had just taken place was “nice.” The king has apparently been fighting against Lot of Orkney (Morgause’s husband) and the other rebels from the Gaelic Confederation. Arthur is in a cocky mood because of his victory, and Merlyn responds negatively to the King’s good mood.

Arthur tells Merlyn that the war has been “fun,” and Merlyn reminds him that more than 700 kerns were killed in the battle, and as king, Arthur is not aware of the real damage that occurs on the battlefield. Merlyn is quite stern with Arthur, and Arthur sees his point.

Merlyn then tells Arthur that shortly he (Merlyn) will be kidnapped by a witch named Nimue and held in a cave for several centuries, and that he has a very short time to teach Arthur how to be a good king.

Merlyn begins to talk about a knight whom Arthur knows and dislikes named Bruce Sans Pitie, who is a violent raper and pillager. Merlyn notes that the whole point of the knighthood so far has been to conduct violent acts and abuse power: Might is Right. Merlyn then expresses pity for the Gealic Confederation, who after all, are only fighting as a response to British aggression. The country is in a bad state, the wizard reminds the king, and it is because of this childish idea that war is “fun.”

Merlyn backs off, letting the idea sink in that Arthur has the power to change the situation.

The concept of Might as Right that was introduced in the first Book is now made more practical and mundane. Instead of dealing with ants, Arthur is now dealing with actaul soldiers. He is young, and does not comprehend the idea that what is sport for him as the king is certain death for the anonymous soldier.

Merlyn plants the seeds for an alternative reign in Arthur’s head in this chapter. In essence he is saying: the knighthood is up to no good, and always has been; they confuse violnce with power; there is a more effective and powerful way to govern and live; what do you, Arthur, think it is?

In its historical context, this is a fascinating idea. We see strains of Gandhi’s passive resistance, and a radical response to the fear that must have gripped England at this historical juncture: having just survived the horror of the great war, the threat of evil in the Third Reich forced common men to make the decision to fight again.

It may be a challenge to the reader during this chapter and the next few following to remember that Morgause, Lot and their crew are called by a variety of names, including: The Orkney faction, the Gaels, the Old Ones, the Oldest of the Old, the King of Lothian and Orkney, the Celts, the Picts, etc. It is important to note that Lot has joined into a Confederation with other rebel kings from the north and west (Scotland, Wales, etc.); this resistance to British rule is historically accurate and significant; the film “Braveheart” is a fine example of what could have been Lot’s perspective.

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