The Sword In The Stone


By T.H. White
"The Sword In The Stone" is a book about an adopted child
named Wart. He is of royal blood and does not know this.
One day when Wart is in the forest, he finds a magician
named Merlin. Merlin comes home with Wart and agrees with
Sir Ector, Wart's guardian, to become Wart's tutor. Merlin
goes about educating Wart by transforming him into
different animals. Through each transformation Wart
experiences different forms of power, each being a part of
how he should rule as king.
The first transformation plunges Wart and Merlin into the
castle's moat as fish. They proceed to meet the largest
fish in the moat, who is the ruler. This fish takes what he
wants because of his size. In a speech about power, he
tells Wart that, "Might is right," and might of the body is
greater than might of the mind. Because of the way the
fish-king rules, his subjects obey him out of fear for
their lives. Wart experiences this firsthand when the
fish-king tells him to leave. He has grown bored of Wart,
and if Wart does not leave he will eat him. The king uses
his size as his claim to power, therefore his subjects
follow him out of fear.
In Wart's next transformation into a hawk, he soars into
the castle's mews. All the birds in the mews have a
military rank. Their leader is an old falcon, who Sir Ector
keeps for show. The birds who rank below the falcon, hold
her in highest regard because of her age. She applies her
power over the other birds with no concern for their lives.
In one instance, Wart is ordered to stand next to the cage
of a crazy hawk who almost kills him. On the other hand,
her seasoned age brings respect, since she had not been
released once she outlived her usefulness as a huntress.
This allows her to maintain a powerful grip over all the
birds she rules through fear and respect.
Next, Wart is transformed into an ant and posted within an
ant colony. There is a single leader of the ants, and she
is the only thinking individual in the whole nest. All the
ants are manipulated and overseen by her. Each ant has a
specific task, which it completes repeatedly. The absolute
power exerted by the leader destroys all individualism,
leaving the ants with no creativity. Instead, they use
trial and error to complete tasks that should take only a
small amount of thought. Wart sees this occur when an ant
tries with difficulty to organize three cadavers in a small
burial chamber, when a small amount of reasoning would have
solved the problem quickly. The ants are of a collective
mind, so that what one thinks, they all think. They go
about their daily lives oblivious to the control the leader
has over them.
Wart's fourth transformation places him among a flock of
geese. These geese are a peace loving race that never kill.
There is one leader to a group who is called The Admiral.
He guides them on their flight south for the winter. The
Admiral receives his position because of his knowledge of
the southern migration route. He is only elected if all the
geese in the migration group agree he is capable of doing
the job. During the flight the geese obey his choices,
since he is their elected leader. But his power ends once
they are back on the ground, where he is only looked upon
as a respected elder.
In the final transformation Wart visits the badger. The
badger is a great philosopher who enjoys giving scholarly
commentaries. While Wart is visiting him, he explains a
story he has written on the creation of the animal
kingdom's hierarchy. In his commentary he explains how man
answered God's riddle and is awarded control over the
animal kingdom. He lives a life of solitude because many
other animals do not think at his level. They listen
because he is old and experienced, and with this comes
Through each of the transformations, Wart sees different
uses of power. Wart must choose how he will eventually
govern his kingdom. The leaders he visits, govern in their
own way, each retaining their power through different
methods. When these are combined, the following picture of
how a leader should or should not rule emerges: A leader
should not attempt to rule his or her people through might
and fear, as does the fisk-king. Unlike the falcon, a ruler
should not retain power only because of age, and should
rule with the subjects well-being in mind. One should not
exert total control over one's subjects, because they lose
creativity and individualism as shown by the ants. A
democratically elected leader, whom subjects have faith in
his or her ability to get a job done, and who has the
required skills will complete the task at hand, as do the
geese. Leaders must give great thought to making decisions
related to their use of power, and use their experience,
like the Badger. Also like the Badger, these decisions
should be made without the help of others, and therefore
may lead to solitude. T. H. White is therefore similar to
Merlin in trying to teach us about leadership. 


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