“Loyalty is the pledge of truth to oneself and others” (Valez-Boardley). T.H. White demonstrates many aspects of loyalty throughout his novel, The Once and Future King. He shows loyalty within families through the stories of Wart and the Orkney boys. Loyalty to King Arthur is also a very recurring issue with the Knight’s Court throughout White’s writing. Sir Lancelot battles with where his loyalty should be placed: with friends, with his code of chivalry, or with his love. Even though loyalty can sometimes be a complicated subject, White shows the advantages and disadvantages of strong and weak loyalty through his many stories.
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Family loyalty can also be seen between the Orkney boys and their mother, Morgause, in the second book, The Queen of Air and Darkness. Parental loyalty is known to be human tendency. When a parent tells their child to do or not to do something, the child will, more often than not, obey the command. This is something that can be seen when Morgause tells her children, Gawaine, Gaheris, Agravaine, and Gareth, to go on a quest and search for a unicorn. “Even at a young age the boys demonstrate loyalty to their mother through the quest” (Ogden-Kovus, par. 6). This strong loyalty poses a problem between the boys when Agravaine takes his actions to the extreme. He feels such a need to attain revenge for his mother, that he goes against the agreement made with his brothers. He kills the beautiful unicorn without any warning to the others. “”Why did you do it?” [Gareth] demanded. “You are a murderer. It was a lovely unicorn. Why did you kill it?”[. . .] “It was a unicorn, and it had to be killed” [he replied.]” (White, 259-60). The other boys tried to stay true to their mother while still being loyal to their idea of what is right. Agravaine has so much loyalty to his mother, however, that it jeopardizes his relationships with his brothers in this situation. This is just the beginning of White’s portrayal of how loyalty can put a character in a difficult situation.
One way King Arthur tries to help his kingdom and gain the loyalty of his knights was by creating the Knights of the Round Table. “The Round Table represents the conquest of good over anarchy” (Spielman, par. 15). He established a code, the chivalric code, by which the knights must live their lives by. Most of the entries made in this code were set to be guidelines for the character and morals of the knights abiding by it. However, some dealt with combat and the way one should fight in an honest and fair battle. (Ogden-Kovus, par. 9) Loyalty to the king was shown through loyalty to his laws. The knights never dared to disobey the code out of spite or meaningful disobedience. Nevertheless, some did fall short of being a perfect knight. Converting the knights from being brutally violent to using force only when necessary and for the good of the people was a very difficult task. The code proved to be a good idea when the people became less and less afraid of the knights under King Arthur’s rule.
One of the knights that was not truly loyal to the code was Sir Lancelot. Lancelot was so close to Arthur, he got to know his wife, Guenever. The feelings that developed were not expected, and became very confusing for Lancelot. His loyalty was so strong for Arthur before this event, and he has no idea where his loyalty should lay after he is caught in the middle of this very big dilemma. His setting is a perfect example from White about how choosing where to place loyalty can often become messy and create complicated judgment.
Throughout the building relationship of Lancelot and Guenever, the ill-made knight battles with where his loyalty lies strongest. He knows it is wrong to pursue his friend’s wife, let alone the king’s wife. It goes against the code of chivalry set by the Knights of the Round Table. However, he does not want to deny the passion and feelings within his own heart. He must be true to himself, and that would require going after the woman he loves. Lancelot has a decision to make, and he must choose where his greatest loyalty lies. His initial choice is to try to ignore his feelings for Guenever, but it does not work for long. They begin sneaking around and meeting alone. Lancelot knows this is wrong, but he chose loyalty to his feelings in the end over loyalty to morals or loyalty to his friend and king.
“I love Arthur and I can’t stand it when I see him looking at me, and know that he knows. You see Arthur loves us” (White, 542). This is spoken by Sir Lancelot to Guenever one evening while they are alone together. He had asked her to come away with him, but she refused because she does not want to leave Arthur. Lancelot insists that Arthur does not mind; he tells her that he has been told many a time about the secret affair, and that it is no longer secret to him. He knows that Arthur will not jeopardize the relationships with his best friend and his wife for the sake of justice, even though it might be the right thing to do. Arthur continues turning a blind eye to the looks passed between the two lovers and the rumors spreading through the castle. Arthur struggles with the inner conflict of loyalty to friends or loyalty to justice. He is finally faced with a decision, in which he tells his son Mordred, “[W]here a matter of public justice arises, the feelings of common people have to be left out” (White, 577). His choice to condemn his wife for treason was one he did not want to make, but he knew he must because it was the right thing to do. All the while, in the back of his mind, he knew and was deeply hoping that she would not actually die; Lancelot would rescue her and take her away from the kingdom. His hopes were justified when Lancelot ran through on his horse the day Guenever was to be burned at the stake and rescued her in the nick of time. Arthur was elated by this because he did not want to see either of his friends live a miserable life or die.
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Another form of loyalty White shows in his novel is loyalty to a duty or responsibility. Sir Pellinore is a very loyal searcher of the Questing Beast. His entire goal in life is to capture this beast. It is an old family tradition that he does not want to give up. He has never known anything different. Then, one day, he comes across the Questing Beast dying in the forest. He realizes that he had been neglecting his search for this marvelous beast and feels like he betrayed his duty. All he had in the world was his duty; it was the most important thing. He nurses the beast back to health, and then continues on with his duty of hunting the Questing Beast as he did before. He learned that when he neglects his duties and lets his loyalty falter, it affects more than just himself. He put the health and happiness of his most beloved creature in danger. He will never again let his loyalty to his duties fade away.
So as one can see, although true loyalty can be complicated sometimes, it can also prove to be advantageous or harmful in many ways. Extremity of this loyalty is what leads to conflict as portrayed in the story of the Orkney boys with the unicorn. Losing loyalty to a specific cause, such as Pellinore and the Questing Beast, can sometimes teach a lesson. White does a very good job at portraying many different forms of loyalty throughout his novel, The Once and Future King. Any reader can learn a lot about how misplaced or properly placed loyalty can affect the lives of many people.
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