VII TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Arthur’s first important realization is that people in his time think that “might is right.” Is this a belief confined to the Dark Ages, or do many people still think this way? Can you give any examples?
2. At one point, Arthur believes that might can be used in the cause of justice. Sir Kay objects that this is no different from “might is right.” Do you agree with Sir Kay? Or are there times when people are justified in using might to enforce their ideas?
3. Merlyn says it is wrong to start a war, but it is all right to fight if the other side starts. He also says it is almost always possible to tell which side is starting a war. Do you agree that it is only legitimate to fight if someone else starts the conflict? Do you agree that it is always easy to tell who has started a war?
4. White suggests that Arthur’s tragedy, in part, is that he has to pay for the sins of his father. Does this seem fair to you?
5. White also suggests that Arthur has to pay for his own sins, including the sin of incest. Was sleeping with Morgause a sin even if Arthur did not know she was his sister? Is ignorance ever a valid excuse? At what point is it a person’s responsibility to know?
6. Whether or not Arthur knew he was committing incest, he was guilty of adultery when he slept with another man’s wife. Is he a hypocrite to punish Guenever and Lancelot for adultery?
7. Is Arthur right or wrong to overlook the affair of Lancelot and Guenever for so long? Is this an example of his moral strength or his moral weakness?
8. Lancelot kills two of Gawaine’s brothers while they are unarmed. In pursuing Lancelot, is Gawaine seeking justice or revenge? What, if anything, is the difference between justice and revenge?
9. At the very end of the story, Arthur places all of his hope in a page named Tom, who will tell his story to the world. Arthur says, “If people could be persuaded to read and write, not just to eat and make love, there was still a chance that they might come to reason.” Do you agree? Can reading and writing bring the world to reason?
VIII IDEAS FOR REPORTS AND PAPERS
1. The early education that Wart receives from Merlyn is intended to make him self-reliant and more aware of nature. Some of the terms that White uses seem to come from the American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. Read Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” (1841) and compare the ideas found in that essay with White’s ideas of education.
2. White relies heavily on the Greek concept of tragedy, in which a great person is destroyed by a character flaw or a mistake made in the past. One of the most important such tragedies is Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. Read this tragedy and compare it with White’s Once and Future King. Note the similarities and differences in the characters of Oedipus and Arthur.
3. The Hindu concept of karma states that whatever you do-good or bad-sets events in motion that will determine what will happen to you in the future. Look up a definition of karma and decide whether Arthur’s sleeping with Morgause creates a series of causes and effects that leads to the destruction of the Round Table.
4. White uses some basic concepts of Freudian psychology to explain the behavior of Morgause’s sons. Does their behavior seem understandable to you? Given their mother’s character, could they have come out differently?
5. At the end of the novel, Arthur thinks for a moment that all wars would end if people lived like geese, without political boundaries or belongings. Do you agree or disagree?