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Book Notes

Notes on Characters from The Once and Future King

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The Once and Future King Major Characters

Arthur: Arthur, the king of England, grew up the adopted son of a minor nobleman. No one knew he was the rightful king until he met Merlyn, (a magician who became his advisor and friend), and pulled a famous sword from a stone. He was always a kind and just person, and when he grew up married the beautiful Guenever. His central difficulty comes up when his wife falls in love with his best friend, Lancelot. He must figure out how to be just without punishing them-something he wants to avoid because he loves them both. He remains kind, thoughtful and humble, despite being very powerful. He created his 'Round Table' of knights in order to have a just, organized legal system.

Merlyn: Like Uncle Dap for Lancelot, Merlyn is Arthur's advisor, mentor and friend, both hot-headed and loving toward the boy and later, King. He takes Arthur on many adventures, helping him realize how special he is, but never forgets to teach the boy kindness and thoughtfulness as well. He tries to help Arthur whenever he can, warning him of Lancelot's affair with Guenever, but never really plays the role of 'wise old man'-he gets himself tangled up in with a beautiful and deceitful woman, Nimue, and is often absent-minded.

Gawaine: Gawaine, though hot-headed, is perhaps the most mature of all his brothers. He remains loyal to Arthur in his mind, to the end, but his passionate loyalty is to his family, and he often creates more trouble by avenging them. He desperately wants everyone to follow a chivalric code, to the point that, when he fights Lancelot and Lancelot beats but spares him, Gawaine begs him to kill him, because he believes the fight should be to the death.

Guenever: Arthur's wife. Guenever loves her husband, but his best friend Lancelot is really the love of her life. Nevertheless, she does not leave Arthur, and cares for him deeply. It is her inability to forget Lancelot for the good of the kingdom that gives Arthur's enemies an angle: eventually, they demand that he prosecute her and Lancelot for treason. She is a warm-hearted, strong, independent and very beautiful woman. She thus feels at ease in the presence of Arthur's sometimes-wild knights.

Mordred: The son of Arthur and his half-sister, Morgause (who tricked Arthur into sleeping with her.) Mordred is much younger than the half-brothers he grows up with. He is also ugly, and his mother alternately is nice to him so that he'll do what she wants, and then ignores him. He always feels out of place and unwanted, and this makes him angry. He hates himself, so he takes it out on everyone else, especially his father. He particularly hates Arthur because he is jealous of him (Arthur is a good man who is well-loved) and because Arthur refuses to reject him: this makes Mordred even angrier. He decides to punish the King by forcing him to acknowledge that Guenever and Lancelot are having an affair. It is essentially his jealousy that brings down Camelot.

Lancelot: Arthur's best friend and best knight, and Queen Guenever's lover. Though he is extremely pious and well-loved and skilled at his work, he feels a vague self-hatred which is never explained. This is made worse when he falls hopelessly in love with Guenever, since he loves and admires Arthur so much. He hates what he is doing but cannot stop. Like Arthur, he feels a strong sense of propriety and justice and duty, even when others do not give him the same treatment.

Minor Characters

Kay: Kay is Arthur's brother, the son of Sir Ector, who adopted Arthur as a baby. Kay is a bit older and enjoys bullying Arthur, calling him 'Wart.' He is the first in a long series of people in Arthur's life who attack him because he is good or special and they are jealous.

Sir Ector: A kindly man who cares for Arthur as if he were his own son, Sir Ector teaches Arthur to treat people well. He takes Arthur into his home as a baby when Merlyn, disguised, brings him there, even though he has no idea Arthur will grow up to be the King of England.

Archimedes: Though gruff, Archimedes, Merlyn's companion owl, truly cares about Arthur and contributes to his education by teaching him about birds.

Lyo-Lyok: A friendly, noble goose, she teaches Arthur that not everyone views life as a quest for power. She is shocked at the idea of war, and Arthur, a young boy interested in becoming a knight, begins to reconsider.

Agravaine: The cruel, bullying member of the Orkney family. He has no real ambition, but merely enjoys hurting people. He is in love with his mother, and kills her out of jealousy. He becomes an alcoholic and dies while trying a surprise attack on Lancelot.

Gareth: The kindest, most sensitive member of the Orkneys. He has a strong sense of right and wrong and always seems like the baby of the family, which is why everyone at court is fond of him.

Gaheris: A quiet, subservient child, Gaheris grows up into someone without much will of his own: he is basically good, but depends often on others for his opinions.

Morgause: Perhaps the major source of tragedy in the book, Morgause uses everyone she can to further her own schemes. She encourages her children to depend on her, then abandons them. She seduces Arthur, and routinely cheats on her husband. She is beautiful, and uses that beauty to get her way.

Uncle Dap: Dap, Lancelot's uncle, has an old-fashioned, blustery manner that opposes Lancelot's solemn sadness almost perfectly. Dap has fits of rage and frustration over his nephew and student: he works himself up yelling bizarre curses like 'By God's teeth!' But he is never angry for long, and he clearly loves Lancelot. He also shares a love of traditional chivalry with his nephew: a master swordsmith, he creates Lancelot's famous sword, Joyeux. When he realizes Lancelot is falling in love with Guenever, he is more concerned about what this might do to Lancelot's jousting career than about its effect on, for example, his friendship with Arthur.

Elaine: Elaine's love for Lancelot contrasts with that of Guenever. Elaine is younger, and loves him the way one might love a movie star: her love comes from awe, not from understanding. She uses underhanded tricks to get what she wants, and when Lancelot leaves her, her character is too weak to recover. She grows fat and pathetic, and eventually kills herself.

Galahad: The son of Lancelot and Elaine, and a perfect, pious, holy knight. Lancelot is jealous of him because he is the world's best knight--a title Lancelot himself used to hold--and because he can achieve the Holy Grail, which Lancelot is too impure to do.

Meliagrance: Though not very important in his own right, Meliagrance sets the stage for attacks on the Queen. He is the reason Mordred realizes he can attack Arthur through Lancelot and Guenever.

Tom: The young knight who will tell Arthur's story, Tom Malory is a fictional version of the real Sir Thomas Malory, who wrote Le Morte D'Arthur, on which much of The Once and Future King is based.

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