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Free Study Guide-The Once and Future King-T.H. White-Free Book Summary
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Chapter 32

Summary and Notes

When Lancelot comes down the next morning to tell Guenever and Arthur his story he finds badly overdressed and made up Guenever who is nervously awaiting his arrival. Lancelot feels the same love for her and pity besides, because she is obviously anxious and needy for his approval.

Lancelot is serene, remarkably good-humored and pensive. Lancelot tells them right away that he was not allowed the Grail as the others did. He defends Galahadís arrogance by asking whether angels such as he are expected to be human and act human. The knight then begins to explain his spiritual frame of mind: he has been to a place that Arthur and Guenever would not understand; he has witnessed the eternal and divine, and so much of mundane daily life now seems to him irrelevant and foreign. He begins to tell his tale:

He was riding along with Percy, when they met Galahad and Galahad unhorsed him. A holy woman nearby curtsied and called Galahad the best knight in the world, and Lancelot was stunned by his defeat and his second place ranking. He felt broken, and he separated from Percivale so that he could be alone and contemplate what it meant to no longer be first knight.

He found a chapel in the forest where he had a dream that all of his knightly accessories were being taken away from him. He realized that with all of his knighthood stripped away he had nothing else to be proud of. He did not have his Word; he did not have miracles, and know he did not have his knighthood. He wept. When he woke up, he heard birds singing, and decided to go to make confession. Lancelot, for the first time in his life, confesses everything and was given penance.

While he is telling the story there is a tense moment where it is not clear whether he will confess to Arthur as well; Arthur gets him out of the bind by urging him to continue to tell his tale.

Lancelotís penance includes wearing the hair shirt and eating no meat. He has another dream in which he retrieves his armor. He believes that the dream is a sign that he can continue on his chivalrous way, and he does, encountering a battle between a group of white knights and a group of black knights. He intends to help the black knights, and he is taken prisoner by the white knights. He is defeated a second time, and he weeps again.

Lancelot then realizes that it was not only the sin with Guenever that he was to do penance for but also his sin of pride: he is proud that he is the best knight in the world. Because he hasnít confessed his second sin, he was beaten a second time. He confesses and is absolved.

The next day he encountered a black knight who defeats him easily: a third defeat. Lancelot chalks this third defeat to the fact that he had never given God thanks for allowing him to be victorious. He accepts the third defeat gracefully and thanks God for the adventure.

The Biblical and theological imagery continues: Lancelot is defeated three times (three being a religiously symbolic number); his weeping in the forest, having visions, etc. echoes Christís journey which culminates in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before he died.

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