Most people aren’t born leaders, but molded into a leader by their life experiences. In The Once and Future King by T. H White, Wart, an illegitimate child of the king, is molded into a leader by his magical tutor Merlyn. The best leaders aren’t those that are born into a position of power, but those that start at the bottom are modeled into a leader by their experiences as they climb to the top. T. H White shows that the best way to learn how to lead is by experiencing things first hand. Merlyn takes Wart numerous adventures during his tutor sessions to show him what type of ruler makes a good kingdom.
Even though each animal transformation Wart undertakes teaches him some things about leadership, the most influential transformations are the fish, the ants, the geese, and the badgers. Although Wart is born into a lesser role than his legitimate brother Kay, he is still young and can be molded into a leader, thus with guidance of Merlyn, Wart will become a great ruler. Merlyn shows Wart ineffective ways of ruling through the fish and the ant transformations. During Wart’s first tutor session with Merlyn, Wart is turned into a fish in the castle’s moat.
During his time as a fish Wart learns about the errors of an absolute monarchy. The pike represents all the flaws of absolute power. This belief is show by White’s description of the pike, White says, “face ravaged by all the passions of an absolute monarch- by cruelty, sorrow, age, pride” (51). Also when, when Wart speaks to the pike, he says, “might is right” (48). By saying this, he is affirming the flawed thinking that follows absolute power. By meeting the pike, Wart is able to learn that it is not a good idea to have one person with all the power.
Opposite to the fish, the ants show Wart the errors of a civilization in which everyone is equal to the point that they loose their individualism. Each ant lacks their own personal name, but is instead given a number. White also gives every ant impersonal and dead voices as if they are constantly just going through the motions. Even though in the ant’s society everyone is equal with exception to the queen, ant life is still monotonous and static. T. H. White highlights the dullness of their lives when he says, “Novelties did not happen to them” (128).
T. H White saying this shows that their conversations and lives are the same day after day. The repetitiveness of their lives are highlighted when the constant instructional broadcasts received by Wart’s antennae make him feel sick because of their repetitiveness. The ant’s show that even though it is good for everyone to be equal, it is important to retain individuality. Unlike the ants and fish, Wart learns from the Geese what constitutes a good kingdom. During one of Wart’s tutoring sessions, Merlin turns Wart into a goose and sends him off to live with other geese.
During his time with the geese, Wart learns that life doesn’t life doesn’t have to be full of conflict. Wart has grown up in a world of fighting and violence, but the geese show him a model society that consist of peace. The geese government is opposite to that of the ants and fishes. Although the geese may be communal like that ants, the geese’s communal lifestyle doesn’t come with the loss of individuality. The geese also elect their leaders unlike the fish, because of this no one goose is able to gain to much power and become a tyrant like the in the moat.
Then, when Wart asks about war among geese, the concept is so foreign that Lyolyok can’t grasp the concept immediately. Then she says, “They do not fight each other” (169). Lyo-lyok saying this shows that the geese live in a society where there is no need to kill another for gain and that they all work together. After saying that Lyolyok also says, “what creature would be so low…. To murder other of is own blood” (169). This quote shows that the mere idea of killing another of the same species disgusts her. Through
Ly-lyok’s disgust in the concept of killing a member of her species, the reader can infer that there is also no violence amongst other geese groups. Wart’s time with the Geese shows that there is an alternative to all the societies he has visited thus far that consist of strife and violence. Although Wart goes on numerous exploits with Merlyn, the most important adventure Wart goes on is the badger transformation. This encounter helps Wart learn that a good ruler puts his people first. During this time, Wart is distressed that Kay will soon become a knight, but Wart will stay a squire.
The first lesson the badger teaches him is to be content with what he is given. The old badger tells Wart a story of how humans came to power. In his story Humans obtained their dominance because when god was asking animals what tools they wanted to survive, the humans said they were content with what they were given. Because of this, god gave humans the ability to use all the tools. But he also said that it is questionable on whether or not they handled. Because, with the power and freedom to do what they wanted, they enslaved other species and wage war amongst themselves.
This is similar to that of the king of England, the king must make smart and responsible decisions with the power that he has been given. Warts visit with the badger shows him that it takes a good ruler along with the right government to make a great kingdom. All of Merlyn’s lesson’s teach Wart how to become a good ruler, but in the end it was just as much Wart as it was Merlyn. The Once and Future King shows that those with best leaders have strong principles, and good morals along with the ability to empathize. Merlyn could have easily tutored kay and attempted to prepare him to become the next great king of England.
Kay even appears to be the best candidate for the throne being a legit heir and having the pompous and arrogant persona associated with most rulers. But, Merlin knows that those with strong principles and good morals become the best leaders. Wart knows how to follow since he followed key for most of his early life and he possess the ability to sympathize with everyone in England, giving the more knowledge of what makes a happy kingdom. Even though Merlin molds Wart into a leader, Wart already had the heart of a good king, thus even though Merlin pushes wart forward but much of it is Wart himself.