SparkNotes: The Once and Future King: Book I: “The Sword and the Stone,” Chapters 1–4Eventually, they encounter a seven-foot-tall giant named Little John. Little John leads them to the camp of a man he calls Robin Wood, known to the villagers as Robin Hood. At the camp they meet Robin and his love, Maid Marian. Robin tells them that one of his men, Friar Tuck, has been kidnapped by Morgan le Fay, a woman of uncertain origin who is believed to be the queen of fairies. The Wart and Kay agree to help rescue the three men. Robin gives the boys a small knife, which he explains will protect them because fairies are afraid of iron. Robin warns them not to eat anything while they are in the castle, since they will be trapped there forever if they do so.
Sir Ector is expected to house Twyti, his dogs, and his men. On Christmas night, the whole village comes to the great hall of the castle to feast. William Twyti is there with his men. The castle and its fields are beautiful under the snow, and everyone is in a good mood. Early the next morning, Twyti gathers his men and his dogs for the hunt. With the help of Robin Wood, they find a boar.
The birds all place a high premium on the importance of lineage and ancestry, and they refer to each other with military titles. Cully, who has been driven to the point of psychotic behavior, is referred to as Colonel, but even his military discipline cannot prevent him from acting on his murderous tendencies. White renders the battle between King Pellinore and Sir Grummore Grummursum ridiculous, using it to poke fun at traditional notions of knighthood. The fight is relatively pointless, since the knights turn a cordial conversation into a joust simply to satisfy the requirements of their social station. There is also humor in the way the fight unfolds, since each man is so heavily padded that he is barely able to hurt the other or even see well enough to avoid running into a tree.
Six years pass. Kay becomes more temperamental, insisting on using weapons he cannot handle and challenging everybody to fights in which he is invariably defeated. Merlyn tells the sulking Wart that the best thing for sadness is to learn something new. Merlyn tells the Wart that this is the last time he will be able to turn him into an animal, since they will soon part ways. Merlyn then turns the Wart into a badger and sends him to visit a wise badger.
Book I: “The Sword in the Stone,” Chapters 14–19
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The early interactions between Kay and the Wart set the stage for our understanding of the boys as they grow, and White makes sure we can empathize with them. The first few chapters are peppered with incidents that help us get an understanding of these two complicated characters. Kay, after losing Cully, angrily states that Hob is only a servant whose feelings are irrelevant, and then he storms off. The Wart seems very much like the good-natured, marginalized stepchild so common in English literature, always decent and eager to please. It is interesting that the Wart is not particularly courageous or full of bravado; rather, he simply does what needs to be done to set things right no matter how frightened he is. Kay, on the other hand, is less pleasant. His actions reveal that he is a spoiled and angry child, so used to having his own superiority asserted for him that he cannot stand to have it challenged.