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Education In The Once And Future King English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1776 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Just as Adderley points out, the Orkney boys were driven to Toirdealbhach because of their mothers rejection, and it is this fact that limits their prosperity and contributes any success gained to the Irish saint. Gawain, one of the Orkney boys, would later become the knight that stood up to defend King Arthur when no one else would. While this success may not be directly due to Toirdealbhach's teachings, this reinforces Adderley's point because he was the Orkney boy's only source of mental nourishment since they did not receive any from their mother. Because these boys did not have a mentor like Merlyn in their lives, they ran to Toirdealbhach for guidance and education, which the reader learns may not have been a great decision.

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While reading The Queen of Air and Darkness, the reader learns a lot about the gruesome, unsuccessful lives of the Orkney boys. White carries the theme of education being vital for success throughout the entire novel, mostly portrayed through the benefits of a good education. Because the author does not focus on much success of the Orkney boys, it is through the boys that White begins to focus on the disadvantages of not obtaining a good education. Again, Adderley notes that "'St. Toirdealbhach with his poteen and stories of old wrongs and ancient bloodshed is ineffectual in weaning the Orkney boys from their mother's wickedness, and is successful only in promulgating a superstitious and bloody-minded attitude toward life'" (par. 10). It is almost because of Toirdealbhach's teachings that the boys become as unsuccessful as they are.

In this quote, Adderley brings out the grim influence of Toirdealbhach on the boys. It was Toirdealbhach's stories of bloodshed that lead the reader to believe that he was the influence of their gruesome acts, such as the murder of the innocent unicorn. The Orkney boys are continually portrayed as bloodthirsty, fighting with each other, and even killing their mother. This reinforces White's idea that education brings success and the uneducated are doomed to failure and awful acts.

Although the Orkney boys were able to be successful in some aspects, though few, despite not receiving a good educational background, education is vital to success, as portrayed in The Once and Future King , because Lancelot received a great education, making him the best knight of his time. It is through book three, The Ill-Made Knight , that one learns that Lancelot's education was placed in the hands of his tutor, Uncle Dap, who was a "genuine maestro" whose "branch of learning was chivalry" (White, 336). White brought out this characteristic in Uncle Dap, his ability to be a great teacher, to contribute to the idea that it was Lancelot's education that made him the best knight. By doing this, White reinforces the idea of education being responsible for success.

Another example that shows that Lancelot received a great education, making him the best knight of his time is when White chooses to strengthen the idea of teaching being credited to success by creating pride of Lancelot's accomplishments in Uncle Dap. When Lancelot begins to fall in love with Guenever, it is Uncle Dap that questions Lancelot by saying,"Is the finest knight in Europe to throw away everything I have taught him for the sake of a lady's beautiful eyes?" (White, 349). It is through this quote that we learn just how successful Lancelot was. By portraying Uncle Dap taking pride in Lancelot and all that he has learned, White sends the message that Lancelot's success was due to his education from his uncle.

The most important reason education is vital to success, as portrayed in The Once and Future King, is because Wart also received a great education, therefore making him a successful man known as King Arthur. Wart's educator was Merlyn, a strange man, that said, "I unfortunately was born at the wrong end of time, and I have to live backwards from in front, while surrounded by a lot of people living forwards from behind" (White, 29). It is because of Merlyn's strange situation that Wart is able to receive an abnormal, but beneficial education. Debbie Sly of Gale, Cengage Learning states "White creates for his hero, the young Arthur (nicknamed 'the Wart'), a largely happy childhood, in which formal education plays little part, being replaced by adventures in most of which the Wart is transformed by Merlyn into a series of animals" (Sly, par. 1).

This quote is bringing out the point that Wart's great success and transformation into a king was due to his adventures designed by Merlyn to be educational. Merlyn is a strange man that "[. . .] often muddles his magical spells," but it is his lack of formality in education that makes Wart so successful (Hanks, par. 7). "Arthur's nickname, Wart, marks him as a different figure from the hero of romance, a child who must learn to be king by learning about the world around him, the animals that live in that world, and from them and their political systems about man and his" (Lupack, par. 9). Both of these quotes explain the sole theme White was trying to prove through Wart: education is vital to accomplishment, and sometimes it is education through experience that brings the most success.

While Wart's education seems to be efficient for his success, some scholars have doubts on the effectiveness of Merlyn, considering his mixed up situation. "A passage from book three, The Ill-Made Knight, celebrates and summarizes the Wart's education, while introducing, for the first time, the possibility of its inadequacy: 'His teacher had educated him as the child is educated in the womb, where it lives the history of man from fish to mammal--and, like the child in the womb, he had been protected with love meanwhile. The effect of such an education was that he had grown up without any of the useful accomplishments for living--without malice, vanity, suspicion, cruelty and the commoner forms of selfishness'" (Sly, par. 12). This raises the question that perhaps Merlyn's lack of formality hurt Wart, rather than benefiting him. According to C.M. Adderley of Gale, Cengage Learning, "a problem [was] spotted by John K. Crane, who notes that 'in training Arthur, he is actually trying to reverse fate but, since he lives backwards in time, knows what will of necessity happen because it has already happened for him,'" making Merlyn's effort useless against fate (par. 6). Despite whether Merlyn could have chosen a better method in educating Wart, White's theme of education being linked to success is strongly portrayed in Wart's transformation to King Arthur.

Another example that shows Wart also received a great education, therefore making him a successful king is illustrated through the influence Merlyn had on Wart. Throughout the novel, Merlyn is able to influence Wart in many decisions that he makes, contributing to his success as king. White "makes him [Merlyn] the ideal tutor, giving Merlyn a relationship to Time, then a relationship to God, which makes it possible for his magic to shape ideally the development of the king-to-be" (Hanks, par. 11). This quote is explaining how Merlyn, because of his unique situation, was able to give Wart a better education than most.

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This point is also shown through another situation where Merlyn was able to teach Wart more religious aspects, instead of strictly educational studies. Merlyn teaches Wart religious lessons, exemplified by his story of the prophet Elijah and the Rabbi Jachanan. Hanks summarizes the moral of the story: "'Say not therefore to the Lord: What does thou? But say in thy heart: Must not the Lord of all the earth do right?'" (par. 18). It is from this situation that White reinforces the idea that Wart was successful because of the diversity of his education.

White also created another situation where Merlyn was able to offer guidance and education in other areas, besides what would normally be expected. Hanks also states, "Merlyn [. . .] is also a military advisor. Prior to the decisive battle of Bedegraine the narrator notes that Merlyn has 'made suggestions about the way to win'; those suggestions involve 'an ambush with secret aid from abroad'" (par. 40). This implies, again, that Merlyn was a great and influential teacher in many ways.

Throughout the book, one can find many examples of lessons that Merlyn was trying to teach Wart, even when he did not realize it. Lupack suggests that maybe "[Merlyn's] departure is just another lesson about life that [Merlyn] is teaching his young students, but it seems also to mark a passage, to be a sign that afterwards Kay will enter the adult world and Wart will become King Arthur and, time having flown, he will have responsibilities that will require him to apply his youthful education--perhaps without having as good a time as he has had as a youth" (par. 8). The Once and Future King possesses many lessons that White included to illustrate the significance of education, even when the reader overlooks it. As stated by Dr. Thomas Hanks, Jr., it is through Wart's successful education that "Arthur without Merlyn would be meat without salt" (par. 2).

Throughout The Once and Future King, White is able to continuously present his theme of education being linked to success. It is through the first three books that we learn about the educational background of Wart, the Orkney boys, and Lancelot. Although book four, The Candle in the Wind, is the thinnest thread, one can still find traces of White's theme of education throughout the book. It is in the last book that the reader is able to see the final influence of each character's education and the way it affects the character's success. Through The Candle in the Wind, the reader is able to see how each character's fate is determined by their success, concluding White's theme of the importance placed on education.

As one can see, although the Orkney boys were able to be successful in some aspects despite not receiving a good educational background, education is vital to success, as portrayed in The Once and Future King, for two main reasons. First, Lancelot received a great education, making him the best knight of his time. But most importantly, Wart also received a great education, therefore making him the successful King Arthur. Throughout the entire book, White implies that "the best thing for being sad [...] is to learn something," because he believed education was essential for success (183). After all, how successful would our leaders and teachers be without their salt?


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