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Free Study Guide-The Once and Future King-T.H. White-Free Book Summary
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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

The novel is divided into four books that span the lifetime of King Arthur. There is no mention of specific datesl, but the author does mention “in the twelfth century” a number of times as a reference, so you can assume that the time is the late Middle Ages.

When the novel opens, Arthur is about twelve years old, and when the novel closes, he is around seventy, so approximately sixty years pass from start to finish. Interestingly, the author makes mention of many real historical events from the Middle Ages, and attributes their causes to Arthur; this is discussed in greater detail in the chapter summaries. What becomes apparent, however, is that Arthur is much greater than his sixty years in this book would suggest - he manages to become responsible for everything for English Common Law to the unification of England to the invention of chivalric code - events which took place hundreds of years apart.

Except for a few brief sojourns, all of the action of the novel is in Britain. In book one, Arthur is a boy living on his guardians’ estate somewhere in England. The estate is called the Castle of the Forest Sauvage, and all of the action of the first book is within its parameters. The manor is a typical medieval one: there are falconry mews, chapels, a peasant village, a haunted forest, and other pleasures for a young boy. At the end of book one, the action shifts to London, where Arthur famously pulls a sword out of a stone and becomes King of England.


Book Two shifts settings radically to someplace called, alternately, the North, the Outer Isles, and Orkney. This is the home of the rebellious Orkney brothers who are pivotal in Arthur’s reign. The setting is craggy and desolate, and the mood is lonely, in sharp contrast to the idyllic and pastoral setting in which Arthur was raised. This place is probably somewhere in Scotland, presumably, or on the islands in between England and Ireland. Juxtaposed to this setting is Arthur’s castle, Camelot, which is somewhere in England; much of the action of Book Two takes place here as well. Within various adventures of Arthur’s friends and the Orkneys themselves, the setting moves back and forth between the Outer Isles and Camelot exclusively.

At the beginning of Book Three, the scene shifts to France, where Lancelot, as a young knight, is training to become part of Arthur’s Round Table. His castle is similar to the ones Arthur has lived in thus far. The focus quickly moves back to England, however, as Lancelot joins Arthur’s cadre and fights for justice. As the actual plot of Book Three deals primarily with the knights’ adventures, the setting is generally either inside the castle at Camelot or in the English countryside, where the knights fight for Right or are searching for the Holy Grail. There are various castles and feudal estates that the knights visit or conquer; their specific names and locations are described in the chapter summaries where relevant.

Finally, in Book Four, most of the action is within the actual confines of Arthur’s castle, specifically, within a chamber room that the Orkeny brothers, Arthur, his wife and Lancelot use as a meeting room. In the last fifty pages of the novel, our attention shifts back to France, where Lancelot is exiled, and Arthur is fighting. In the last chapter, Arthur is on Salisbury Plain in an army tent, a historically profound setting as this is where the Druid monument Stonehenge stands.

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