Friday, January 13, 2017
Let's Read: The Once and Future King (Ch.16)
Lo and behold, the morning after the feast and drunken frivolities!
Being a kid, Wart is unaffected. But he, like many others in the castle, awake early in order to see the boar hunt; the sport put on by Uther Pendragon’s master huntsmen William Twyti.
“Master William Twyti turned out in daylight to be a shriveled, harassed-looking man, with an expression of melancholy on his face. All his life he had been forced to pursue various animals for the royal table, and, when he had caught them, to cut them up into proper joints. He was more than half a butcher”
“Summer or winter, snow or shine, he was running or galloping after boars and harts, and all the time his soul was somewhere else. […] He was always being sent from one castle to another, all over England, and when he was there the local servants would fete him and keep his glass filled and ask him about his greatest hunts. He would answer distractedly in monosyllables” (142).
I actually am enjoying how White is setting up characters which subvert the Arthurian legend.
First we had King Pellinore who had no great love of questing and longed for the comfort of a warm bed, and now we have a lordly huntsmen who has been cut down with the weary apprehension of a life filled with slaughter; I can easily see how spending your life hunting down and killing largely defenseless animals would get old after a while, especially since such activities only ever feature for the benefit of the king. If Twyti is an animal lover, as might be suggested by his violent description, then the effect of spending your life slaying animals would take an especially hard toll.
But, after this, the hunt begins. Men and woman have come from all around to watch the hunt and it is a regular party affair. Wine and cheeses and companionship are a plenty.
Unfortunately, this is a long chapter and the reason that it is long is because this hunt takes up an ungodly amount of print. Well, okay, it is not anywhere near as long as, say, Tad William’s works on High Fantasy, but it is long by White’s standard.
After a while, though, the dogs and hunters find their prey and succeed in killing the large black boar.
Though this section seems to harken back, a bit, to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, it was a far more maudlin atmosphere. This sadness is due to the death of one of Twyti’s hunting dogs; Wart sees Twyti cry over the death of one such dog. After this, King Pellinore retreats to the forest, apparently upset that everyone is so gun-ho about killing animals. Why he feels this way will soon be made apparent.
Turns out, that King Pellinore did not actually kill the Questing Beast. In fact, he has an odd relationship with it. It appears to be somewhat crossed between a foe and a pet. Pellinore is found at the forest’s edge nursing a dying Beast.
“’I happened upon it in this gorse bush here, with snow all over its poor back and tears in its eyes and nobody to care for it in the wide world. It’s what comes from not leading a regular life. Before, it was all right. We got up at the same time and quested for regular hours, and went to bed at half-past ten. Now look at it. It has gone to pieces altogether, and it will be your fault if it dies. You and your bed’” (153).
Pellinore’s remarks here seem deeper than they appear. I think it is autobiographical. Because I am not a scholar of White’s life, I cannot say what it would be commenting on, but perhaps White is morning the loss of a childhood friend, childhood itself, or inserting himself in some manner into that of the questing Beast. I remember hearing in a Great Course lecture taught by Nancy Armstrong, that White led a very lonely life. So perhaps this is a king of moment where he lets loose about how he felt?
At any rate, Pellinore arranges for the beast to stay in the castle tonight and to nurse it back to health, whereupon he will give the beast a head-start and it and Pellinore will resume their questing game, thus revealing that Pellinore’s relation to questing is a combination of dislike but enjoyment, as it often is while your labor is exploited.
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