The trilogy starts in the last years of the rule of king Uther Pendragon. The Sword in the Stone chronicles Arthur's raising by his foster father Sir Ector, his rivalry and friendship with his foster brother Kay, and his initial training by Merlyn, a wizard who lives through time backwards. Merlyn, knowing the boy's destiny, teaches Wart (which is Kay's nick-name for Arthur) what it means to be a good king by turning him into various kinds of animals: fish, hawk, ant, goose, and badger. These transformations show Arthur the different types of life and even "political" situations in different animal worlds. Most importantly, before he takes the throne, Wart learns to challenge the concept that "might makes right."
In fact, Merlyn instills in Arthur the concept that the only justifiable reason for war is to prevent another from going to war then, and that contemporary human governments and powerful people exemplify the worst aspects of the rule of Might.
In The Queen of Air and Darkness, White sets the stage for Arthur's demise by introducing the Orkney clan and detailing Arthur's seduction by their mother, his half-sister Morgause. While the young king suppresses initial rebellions, Merlyn leads him to envision a means of harnessing potentially destructive Might for the cause of Right: the Round Table.
The third part, The Ill-Made Knight, shifts focus from King Arthur to the story of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guenever's forbidden love and its effect on the mother of Lancelot's son, Elaine, and the King.
The Candle in the Wind unites these narrative threads by telling how Mordred's hatred of his father and Agravaine's hatred of Sir Lancelot caused the eventual downfall of King Arthur, Queen Guenever, Sir Lancelot, and the entire ideal kingdom of Camelot.
The book begins as a quite light-hearted account of the young Arthur's adventures, Merlyn's incompetence at magic, and King Pellinore's interminable search for the Questing Beast. In parts, it reads almost as a parody of the traditional Arthurian legend by virtue of White's prose style, which relies heavily on anachronisms. However, the tale gradually becomes darker until Ill-Made Knight loses much of the original humor and The Candle in the Wind is mirthless.
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