Sunday, February 19, 2017
Let's Read: The Once and Future King (Ch.21)
AS the ceremony for Kay’s initiation draws nearer, Wart becomes increasingly down. Sir Ector tries to rouse him from his sulking. Wart tries to argue, unconvincingly, that he is not sulking and that Kay is a good person, but we can totally tell that he is upset that his BFF no longer wants to hang out and get fucked up, ya know?
So he goes to Merlyn. Because if anyone knows how to have fun, it is eccentric wizards who used to live in forests.
“’The best thing for being sad,’ replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, ‘is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails’” (183).
Merlyn’s advice is pretty hackneyed but I can actually see his point: whenever I have been really sad, I have found that immersing myself in something tends to take the edge off, only because you are forcing your mind to focus on something else; for instance, one time, when I was a playful youth, and needed to get my mind off of a romantic infatuation, I played a video game on the hardest difficulty setting. That took my minds off my desire, if only because keeping my avatar alive was so hard.
But Merlyn suggests that Wart visit his old friend Badger, who is the most learned of his animal friends.
But then Merlyn drops the ball.
“’there is one thing I ought to tell you. This is the last time I shall be able to turn you into anything. All the magic for that sort has been used up, and this will be the end of your education. When Kay has been knighted my labours will be over.’”
Merlyn really doesn’t know the proper way to cheer up sulky teens, but I guess he has to tell the truth at some point, so…
So Wart gets turned to a badger and promptly goes on an angry ‘I am animal let me kill you’ spree.
“’Hedge-pig,’ said the Wart, peering up at his victim with blurred, short-sighted eyes, ‘I am going to munch you up’” (184).
Don’t mess with teen angst! But he is an animal… an anthropomorphized animal, so yeah, don’t mess with teen angst, since it turns murderous. What is fun is that instead of some love-interest bringing out Wart’s homicidal-angst, it is a friend. So it is closer to homosocial.
But the hedgehog placates Wart with some songs and his innate inferiority (appealing to Wart’s supremacy, like the Japanese in that episode of South Park). Additionally, Wart believes that he saw the baby version of this hedgehog years ago in Merlyn’s cottage, so he is feeling sentimental. Plus, the songs are a bit melodramatic, so they appeal to Wart’s ‘woe is me’ status. Once Wart strokes his ago enough, however, he moves on to his date with Badger.
“’So Merlyn sent you to me,’ said the Badger, ‘to finish your education. Well, I can only teach you two things—to dig, and love your home. These are the true end of philosophy’” (186).
Is Badger and Anti-philosopher? Because that is a pretty sub-standard view of philosophy, even for bourgeois conservatives. Well, I guess you can have a philosophy of digging and home décor, but that doesn’t transfer too well to, you know, stuff like ontology and existentialism (unless you’re a postmodernist).
But, Badger shows Wart around his huge home. Wart muses on if it is like a college or a castle. Eventually, they settle in what appears to be Badger’s study and Badger reads to Wart the start of his doctoral dissertation; this is actually just White’s version of a creation myth which involves all the different embryos of all the different species asking God for different and unique attributes. That is, until one of the final eggs is asked and replies that they do not want any unique attributes and are pleased to make their way in the world with but the natural material which surrounds them. To this God is pleased and makes this embryo Man.
Then there is a debate about what animals wage war.
“’True warfare is what happens between bands of the same species. Out of the hundreds of thousands of species, I can only thing of seven which are belligerent. Even Man has a few varieties like Esquimaux and the gypsies and the Lapps and certain nomads in Arabia, who do not do it, because they claim no boundaries. True warfare is rarer in nature than cannibalism’” (194).
This is an idea which White keeps returning to—remember the part when Wart was among the geese and the pseudo-love interest remarked how geese have no territory and if man took to the skies in the same way that geese did, then they would have to give up war.
On one hand, it is a nice sentiment, since it brings to light the fact that territory does have to do with how war transpires (but is only one factor next to imperialism and racial mythologies). But, on the other hand, it is very idealistic since White can only ever lament on this fact in comparison to animals, thus rendering a speciesist form of reaction where animals are the pure and mankind is doomed to their innate nature. Besides, I am also hung up on the ‘a few varieties’ comment which makes these aboriginal tribes almost sound like they are not quite pure-humans, like they are human but come from a different bloodline than other facets of humanity; if this is the case, then it marks White as a racialist. I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here and simply take White that he means that aboriginals lack the social structure which leads to modern warfare as practices by the contemporary—imperialist and anti-imperialist—world, but I am still weary of what lies behind the curtain.
After this exchange, the chapter ends with Badger asking Wart if he liked the geese or ants more; this appears to be of deeper significance since both of these animals are opposed—ants with their warfare and geese with their non-territorial peace. Especially since, as Wart is keen on reminding us, he would like to be a knight and to go to war so as to win glory and whatnot (typical depressed beta male psychopathy). So that eh chapter ends with such an oblique and unanswered inference, is typical of White’s style, but also says that White obviously wrote these animal sections as something forming a cohesive whole, if only you take the time to deconstruct those meanings.
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