This chapter begins with what every reader loves most—lengthy descriptions of the protagonist’s home!
Sir Ector’s castle— the imaginatively named Castle of the Forest—has quite the defensive walls and is a haven for a young boy’s imagination; we know this since he spends about three and a half pages describing it.
Part of this series of descriptions is about dogs, specifically, how Sir Ector has employed the boy who had his nose bitten off by Wat that crazed man-turned-bandit from earlier. The boy is never named; he is just called Dog Boy.
“[Dog Boy] talked to [the dogs], not in baby talk like the maiden lady, but correctly in their own growls and barks. They loved him very much, and revered him for taking the thorns out of their toes, and came to him their troubles at once. […] It was nice for the dogs to have their god with them, in visible form” (43).
Darn, man. Dog Boy has got it going on! Personally, I cannot speak dog, but do have a great appreciation for those who can, as I know it is a difficult language to learn. Since this evidently means that godhood is bestowed upon the learner, it is no small task to uptake.
Unsurprisingly, however, he and Wart kick it off and are best buddies.
“The Wart was fond of the Dog Boy, and thought him very clever to be able to do these things with animals… while the Dog Boy loved the Wart in much the same way as his dogs loved him, and thought the Wart was almost holy because he could read and write” (44).
Shit. Talk about unrequited love—how ignorant are you, Wart‽
But I want to draw attention to how the narrator talks of Dog Boy before he mentions Wart’s quasi-holy status due to his education (“Edication”). The passage says that Dog Boy revered him in the same fashion as his dogs, partly because Wart’s education enabled him to do fantastical things like read and write, something which appears divine in the same manner of dogs having their troubles assuaged by humans; each comparison is secular, even pagan—you will notice that “god” isn’t capitalized and there is nothing inherently Christian about either education or animal care. Divinity and the Arthur-legend is certainly concerned with Christ, is only used, though, as this sort of fulcrum supporting desire, but the passage makes very clear that Dog Boy also thought [so and so] about Wart: the “and” makes it clear since it is a connecting clause. Wart’s education is a minor affair. So, unintentional as it seems, Dog Boy has quite the crush on Wart. Very cute.
So then that cockblock Merlyn comes in and demands that Wart start his tutoring for the day. Wart reluctantly agrees.
With it being a super-hot day out, Wart wishes that he could take a dip in the moat and remarks that he wished that he was a fish. Merlyn, because he lacks a sense of humor, finds this amusing and transforms him into a fish and they go into the moat together in order to, uh, do… learned stuff, I guess.
Turns out that the inhabitants of the moat are a bit anthropomorphized with human emotions and all that. We find this roach who is a bit of a hysteric and Merlyn—being a doctor fish—does some hoodo-poodo around her to calm her nerves. Then they visit the so-called fish king of the moat and her is a depressive older creature who lectures on power and love and is generally a down and out ruler. Wart is nearly hypnotized and eaten by the fish-king (Fisher king?) but manages to escape at the last minute.
Merlyn, meanwhile, wins the award for suckiest teacher ever.
This chapter was interesting. It was clearly setting up the trails of kingship which would later embroil Wart after he is crowned king. This challenge was part of that moral adventure—do as I say, not as I do. But more than that, this chapter further built on a strain of melancholy which the novel up to this point has been erecting; the decay of once prized fortresses, hysteric hypochondriacs, misbegotten same-sex love, lonely yet deranged lords, and deep confusion over sudden bodily changes.
Underneath the puberty-coming-of-age tale disguised as a make-you-a-better-king tale, there is a noticeable streak of negativity. One which, I suspect, relates to the author’s own life, since it is my understanding that White lived a fairly lonely existence. Still, the chapter was entertaining and I am becoming impressed with how the various threads are used and to what extent. Hopefully, this interconnected prose is kept up.