Archetypes in The Once and Future King

In this article you will learn about the archetypes in The Once and Future King, the novel by TH White, which contains examples of various archetypes commonly seen in literature throughout the ages.

What are the Archetypes in The Once and Future King?

Arthur is the archetypal innocent at the beginning of the story who goes through a transformation during his archetypal journey story into the hero by the end.

He develops from a naive and innocent young person, unaware of his future destiny, into a noble person of sound judgement and good heart who exhibits many heroic qualities.

He has strength, courage, bravery, determination, loyalty to the people around him and a desire always to do what is right and just.

He is able to accomplish what all the other renowned Knights of the realm have been unable to – to remove the sword from the stone – demonstrating his heroic qualities.

Merlyn is both an archetypal wizard and mentor to Arthur. He has the magical powers and is in touch with his instincts as a typical wizard is expected to be.

When he meets Arthur he recognises, when nobody else does, Arthur’s true nature.

He sets out to guide and mentor Arthur to become a good King, using his extensive knowledge, intellect and experience of the world to be a good teacher with the admirable aim of ensuring Arthur uses his destined kingly powers for good.

Sir Ector is the archetypal father.

Despite not being Arthur’s real father, he takes him in and nurtures him as though he were his biological son.

Kay, Arthur’s adopted brother, on the other hand is an archetypal bully. Jealous of the affection their father shows Arthur, Kay torments Arthur and his weakness of character is exposed in his attempts to attack him.

The Once and Future King Book Summary

  • In the final years of King Uther Pendragon’s reign Arthur, known as the Wart, is raised by his foster father Sir Ector and trained by the wizard Merlyn, who knows Arthur’s destiny to be King.
  • Merlyn teaches the Wart about the world by turning him into various animals.
  • Finally, Arthur becomes squire to his foster brother Kay when he is knighted, assisting him in his knightly adventures.
  • When the King Uther Pendragon dies he leaves no heir.
  • It is proclaimed that the next rightful king will be the person who first succeeds in pulling a mysterious sword out of the rock into which it has been driven.
  • Kay and Arthur travel to the tournament in London where the most revered Knights in the country will compete to try to remove the sword.
  • Whilst he is running an errand on behalf of Kay, Arthur removes the sword from the stone and, as a result, he is declared the next king of England, fulfilling Merlyn’s vision of his future.

The Once and Future King Archetype Examples

  • Innocent
  • Hero
  • Wizard
  • Mentor
  • Father
  • Bully
  • Journey

Want more literary archetypes?

Go check out our extensive list of archetypes in literature to find out more about the characters seen in literature throughout the ages.

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