The Ill-Made Knight
|Author||T. H. White|
|Series||The Once and Future King|
|Publisher||G. P. Putnam's Sons|
|Preceded by||The Queen of Air and Darkness|
|Followed by||The Candle in the Wind|
"The Ill-Made Knight" is a fantasy novel by British writer T. H. White, the third book in the series The Once and Future King. It was first published in 1940, but is usually found today only in collected editions of all four books of the novel.
Much of The Ill-Made Knight takes place in the fabled Camelot.
The Ill-Made Knight is based around the adventures, perils and mistakes of Sir Lancelot. Lancelot, despite being the bravest of the knights, is ugly, and ape-like, so that he calls himself the Chevalier mal fet - "The Ill-Made Knight". As a child, Lancelot loved King Arthur and spent his entire childhood training to be a knight of the round table. When he arrives and becomes one of Arthur's knights, he also becomes the king's close friend. This causes some tension, as he is jealous of Arthur's new wife Guinevere. In order to please her husband, Guinevere tries to befriend Lancelot and the two eventually fall in love. T.H. White's version of the tale elaborates greatly on the passionate love of Lancelot and Guinevere. Suspense is provided by the tension between Lancelot's friendship for King Arthur and his love for and affair with the queen. This affair leads inevitably to the breaking of the Round Table and sets up the tragedy that is to follow in the concluding book of the tetralogy - The Candle in the Wind.
Lancelot leaves Camelot to aid people in need. Along the way, he meets a woman who begs him to climb a tree and rescue her husband's escaped falcon. After he removes his armor and does so, the husband appears and reveals that he only wanted Lancelot to remove his armor so that he can kill the knight. Despite being at a disadvantage, Lancelot manages to kill the man and tells the wife "Stop crying. Your husband was a fool and you are a bore. I'm not sorry" (though he reflects that he is). Later, he comes across a man attempting to murder his wife for adultery. Lancelot attempts to protect the woman (who denies the charges) by riding in between the two; however the man manages to cut off his wife's head. The man then throws himself at Lancelot's feet and asks for mercy to avoid being killed. It was revealed later that the man was punished by being charged to take his wife's head to the Pope and ask for forgiveness. Finally, Lancelot comes to a town where the inhabitants beg him to rescue a young woman named Elaine, who is trapped in a tower. The tower is full of steam and she is forced to sit in a tub of boiling water. He manages to save her and her father has him spend the night. That night, the servants and Elaine devise a plan in which the servants get Lancelot drunk and trick him into thinking Guinevere is in the house. When he awakens in the morning, he discovers that he actually slept with Elaine. Furious at the loss of his virginity (which he believes also cost him the ability to work miracles) and frightened at the thought that Elaine might have a baby, he leaves. He later confesses the affair to Guinevere, who forgives him. They later discover that Elaine did have a baby, which she named Galahad (Lancelot's real name). She brings the baby to Camelot to show to Lancelot and together they spend time with Galahad. Guinevere is furious at this (as she asked Lancelot not to do that) and Lancelot goes mad and runs from the castle. Two years later he is found by Elaine's father (who does not recognize him) and is kept as a fool until Elaine recognizes him and cares for him. He lives with Elaine for some time, but then returns to Camelot. When Galahad grows older, he is brought to Camelot as well, to be knighted.
The Ill-Made Knight also deals with the quest for the Holy Grail. Arthur notices that the drop in crime has caused the Knights of the Round Table to fall back into their old habits (especially Gawaine, Agravaine, and Mordred, who found their mother in bed with one of Sir Pellinore's sons and murdered both in a fit of rage). In order to give the Knights a new goal, he sends them to find the Holy Grail. The quest ends when Sir Galahad, Sir Percival, Sir Bors, and Sir Pellinore's daughter find the grail. Sir Lancelot apparently saw the four in a room, with the Grail, an old man, and several other knights; however he was unable to enter the room himself (when he tried he was knocked out). One of the knights returned with the news that the Grail could not be brought to England and as a result Sir Galahad and the other knight brought it to Babylon (and neither of them could return to England as well). Sir Pellinore's daughter died when she allowed her blood to be taken to cure a dying princess.
Later on, Elaine commits suicide after Lancelot tells her that he will not return to stay with her permanently. The book ends with Lancelot performing a miracle, which is a miracle in and of itself due to the fact that he is not a virgin (which had been the requirement for being able to do so).
Allusions/references in other works
- “The boy [Lancelot] thought that there was something wrong with him. All throughout his life—even when he was a great man with the world at his feet—he was to feel this gap: something at the bottom of his heart of which he was aware, and ashamed, but which he did not understand ... We do not have to dabble in a place which he preferred to keep secret."