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Lessons from a Badger

In: English and Literature

Submitted By JessL83
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Lessons from a Badger
Throughout his lessons with Merlyn, Wart is turned into many animals; a fish, an ant, a hawk, an owl, a goose, and a badger. Perhaps the most important of these is the last animal, the badger. The badger is the most learned of all of the creatures that Wart is turned into, and drives home Merlyn’s point that intelligence and education are more important in a king than being a brave knight, regardless of how many acts of chivalry one may do.
Upon entering the badger’s home, Wart does not know “whether to think of it as a college or as a castle” (White 189). The Great Hall, or Combination Room is most striking with its “paintings of departed badgers…lit from above by shaded glow-rooms” (White 189). White’s description of the Combination Room brings to mind the libraries and study rooms of Oxford or Cambridge and brings home the emphasis on education and wisdom. The badger himself even says that if Wart is there to learn, than he has been sent to the right place (White 190). As Wart and the badger talk, the badger tells Wart a parable about how God gave Man “the Order of Dominion” (White 193) over the animals of the world. As Wart and the badger are discussing the parable, the lesson that Wart was to learn becomes clear; humans are the only creatures in existence to wage war upon each other. Though Arthur tries to insist that ants and wolves wage war, the lesson is that, while other species may fight each other, human beings are the only ones to wage war against each other. As the badger says, “true warfare is rarer in Nature than cannibalism” (White 194). Wart, however, misses the point that this trait in human beings is perhaps what makes them a tyrant versus “the king of the animals” (White 193), instead choosing to focus on the glory of war.
It is clear at this point in the story that Wart has a romantic view of war and what it truly is. He says that he would like “to do great deeds, and be brave and conquer [his] own fears” (White 194), but the lessons that Merlyn has tried to teach Arthur have been more about the value of intelligence and education rather than chivalry and bravery. As Merlyn said earlier in the story, learning “is the only thing that never fails…that is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting (White 183).
Merlyn knows that Wart can be and is brave; his stint in the woods overnight when Cull was lost is proof of his bravery. What Merlyn is trying to instill in Arthur is an education, a belief that, while being a knight is all well and good, education is more important and longer-lasting than any act of bravery. In many ways, Wart, like the animals in the badger’s parable, is still in his embryonic state. He is being given an opportunity, through Merlyn, to choose the man he will become, much like the animals in the parable were given the choice as to what they would be. The unfortunate thing is that Man, like Wart, has great potential yet chooses to squander it on waging war and threatening the land he is supposed to have dominion over.
This is the lesson that Wart is supposed to learn and does not quite grasp. When the badger tries to explain it to him, Wart focuses solely on wanting to be a knight. Wart sees war as romantic and glamorous, a chance to be brave and do daring acts. In reality, the driving factors behind war are more often than not greed, ambition, and boredom – none of which are characteristics befitting a knight, let alone a king.
Throughout his education by Merlyn, Wart is turned into many different animals. While he learns many lessons from each one, the most important lesson is that he was supposed to have learned from the badger. The badger and Merlyn both try to instill a love of learning above all else in Wart, but Wart, being in a childlike embryonic state, can only focus on the dashing bravery expected of a knight. This last lesson, that bravery and chivalry can only go so far whereas education and intelligence last forever, is one that Wart has a hard time grasping and could be his downfall as he learns to rule an entire kingdom on his own.

Works Cited
White, T.H. The Once and Future King. New York: Ace Books, 1987. Print.…...

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