Themes, Motifts, and Symbols in "The Queen of Air and Darkness"

This Storyboard That activity is part of the lesson plans for The Once and Future King

TOAFK - Symbols and Themes in "The Queen of Air and Darkness"


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Activity Overview

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the novel, and support their choices with details from the text.

Themes, Motifs, and Imagery to Look For and Discuss

The Sins of the Father Affect the Sons (or The Past Affects the Future)

Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father, raped Igraine and killed her husband. Morgause, Igraine’s daughter, vows revenge for her family and magically seduces Arthur. She bears him a son, Mordred, who becomes Arthur’s undoing. This relationship is an allegory for World Wars I and II, where the sins of the fathers (the Treaty of Versailles reparations and punishments on Germany) are visited on the sons (the generations of men who were killed in World War II by Nazi Germany). This also relates to the tragedy of Oedipus Rex, who slept with his mother and killed his father. As a lesson enhancement, give students a summary of Oedipus Rex and have them look at the similarities between Arthur’s predicament and Oedipus’.


Merlyn is a pacifist, and he is constantly trying to get Arthur to think for himself and to approach warfare in a different way. He says that the destiny of man is to unite, not divide. Arthur loves the glory of knighthood, but the wars fought by the upper class through thousands of knights’ lives lost is an atrocity. This eventually leads Arthur to realize his new code of chivalry: Might only for Right.

Force Majeur

Before Arthur’s reign, disputes are settled only by violence, under a system of Force Majeur:, with “might making right”. Through Merlyn’s staunch pacifism, and his experience with the perch, Arthur sees his battle with the Gaels in a new light. He begins to imagine a world in which Might is only used for Right, instead of using might to enforce beliefs and victory on others. When Kay brings up the idea that a good reason to start a war is simply to have a "good" reason, Merlyn angrily responds that there was once an Austrian who thought the same thing (an allusion to Hitler). He juxtaposes this example with Jesus, who made ideas available for people to decide for themselves.

The Round Table

The Round Table represents the equality of civil law that Arthur is trying to establish in his kingdom. The Round Table eliminates the power struggle between knights and puts them all on equal footing. This Round Table allows Arthur to establish an effective system of defense against Force Majeur.

The Victorian Foxhunt

The Victorian foxhunt is something that Merlyn uses to show Arthur the frivolity of war, especially when it is fought for no actual good reason. He says that in these cases, it is the common soldier who gets hurt while the nobles fight their wars for fun without any sense of the true consequences. He warns Arthur, “Unless you can make the world wag better than it does at present, King, your reign will be an endless series of petty battles, in which the aggressions will either be from spiteful reasons or from sporting ones, and in which the poor man will be the only one who dies.”

Battle of Bedegraine

The Battle of Bedegraine marks the turning point for Arthur in how he approaches warfare. It was here that Arthur decides that no ransoms were to be taken, and that his knights were to fight directly against the Gaelic knights, not the gallowglasses, or foot soldiers. He had his men attack in the middle of the knight, throwing out the rules of battle, in order to defeat the Eleven Kings swiftly. This defeat allows Arthur total control over England in order to enact his new Civil Law.

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Template and Class Instructions

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in "The Queen of Air and Darkness". Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from "The Queen of Air and Darkness" you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represent this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

Template: Theme


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