A BASIC CHARM of The Once and Future King, of which this is the previously unpublished final section, is the way the author threw himself into the story he borrowed from Malory. If you are looking for simple adventure, for knights and ladies in the slightly stiff poses of medieval tapestry or Gothic sculpture, you do not read White; you go to Le Morte d' Arthur, a more direct though still tertiary source. White's reworking is valuable for the myraid, living and deep reflections of the author's complex personality - in Merlyn the genial misanthrope, in Arthur the harrassed idealist who groans under the task of being an ordinary man with an extraordinary assignment, even in Guenever and perhaps most of all in Lancelot, the good man who does grave wrong.
White's tendency to project his own concerns into the Arthurian matter is evident throughout The Once and Future King but nowhere so much as in this finale, where the narrative thread is almost completely dropped. Driven by the conflict between his English loyalties and his pacifism. White plunges into a curious Platonic dialogue on the nature of man, the ideal society, and the causes and prevention of war.
On the eve of his final battle with Mordred, Arthur is brought back for a talk with Merlyn and the group of animals (a badger, a snake, an owl, a dog, a hawk, a goat, a hedgehog who typifies the stout though scruffy British yeoman) who were met originally in The Surond and the Stone. They are, on the whole, very hard on Homo Sapiens . Meryln, chief mouthpiece (and White's) denies, in fact, that the term sapiens describes our species, and his seggested substitutes are ferox . . .stultus . . .impoliticuz (fierce, stupid, uncivilized). It was too much for England (possibly for the world) in 1941. With a war on and a paper shortage, there was no market for long, pacifist diatribes, and by the time The Once and Future King was published in 1958, this section had dropped from sights. Only its two most striking sections, those in which Arthur becomes an ant and a goose, were recycled into the published text.
In terms of the book's artistic quality, the fortunes of war undoubtedly did White a favor. With this material at its end, The Once and Future King (already a book with more than its share of odd bumps and ridges) would have been hopelessly lopsided and it would not have attracted the wide readership that wanted a modern look at King Arthur. But it is also fortunate that this curious appendix has now surfaced. It will be read not for its contribution to the story of Arthur but for its rhetoric - and being by White, the rhetoric is superb.