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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

The scene changes back to the Out Isles, where the reader is in a hovel owned by Mother Morlan and a fallen saint (apparently a Protestant before his time) names St. Toirdealbach. Gawaine and his brothers are visiting the saint - apparently he is a favorite of theirs - to listen to him tell stories. The saint is a combination of Celtic stereotypes: musty, drunk, good-humored, melancholy and ancient.

St. Toirdealbach tells the boys the story of King Conor and a magic ball that got lodged in his brain in battle. There is no apparent rhyme or reason to the story, and it is told in a heavy Gaelic dialect, but the boys are transfixed. It is clear from their reactions and their conversation with the saint, that they are often around the old man because of a lack of compassion and warmth at home and that this old man is the equivalent of Merlyn in their lives.

The group moves quickly onto the subjects of war; the group agrees that war is problematic when there are too many people involved because no one knows what they are fighting for, in particular the common man who dies. This, of course, echoes the conversation between Kay, Arthur and Merlyn in the previous chapters. The author is attempting to show that there is reason for Merlyn to be sympathetic regarding the Gaels; they are, after all, not so different in their sensibilities.

The boys are asked to leave shortly thereafter, and they go out onto the street where they find an old donkey. The boys ride the donkey down to the sea where they torture the donkey. They apparently lack compassion for hurting things; the author attributes to this to their apathetic upbringing.

Meanwhile, a magic ship is approaching the island. On the ship are Pellinore, a black knight named Palomides, and another as yet unnamed knight. The knights startle the boys.

This is a climactic first between between representatives of the British and the Gaelic people. The Gaels are mesmerized and frightened by the British knights. They know that the knights work for King Arthur, and that Lot is currently fighting against the King, and that they should be antagonistic against the knights, but they are too fascinated and bewildered by their accidental presence on their island to react. On the other hand, the knights have no idea where they are or of the current conflict between the two parties; they’ve been on the ship for a long time and are not up on current events.

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