It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to claim a Cinematic Chiasmus article as totally my own. I haven’t done that since Quigley Down Under in April 2021. All the ones I’ve done since then have been inspired by either an amazing reader of mine named Jordan or my own smart son. But I’m finally going to do something that was inspired just by me today by explaining the chiasmus of a Disney animated classic called The Sword in the Stone.
I remember enjoying that film as a kid, but I hadn’t seen the whole thing in many years. So I found it interesting when I had a good feeling about it all of a sudden a few weeks ago. I had been watching the sword-pulling scene over and over again, and I decided to check out how the film began. To my delight, I found that it was remarkably similar to the ending. And then as soon as I saw Wart fall through Merlin’s roof, I knew I was onto something big.
This chiasmus is pure magic, so let’s sit a spell and see how it goes.
Here is a brief summary of the film’s events, showing how the first half of the film is a perfect mirror of the second half:
A. England is left without a king
B. The Sword in the Stone appears
C. No one is able to pull the sword from the stone
D. Merlin pulls water out of a well with some difficulty
E. Kay chases Wart off to retrieve his arrow in the forest
F. A wolf hunts Wart to replace a bone, but he’s disappointed
G. Wart falls and makes a hole in Merlin’s roof
H. Merlin shrinks everything in his house
I. Merlin tells Wart magic can’t solve every problem
J. Merlin disappears and is reluctantly invited to stay by Sir Ector
K. Merlin threatens to turn his owl Archimedes into a human
L. Wart becomes Kay’s squire for an upcoming tournament
M. Kay trains, and Merlin makes plans to help Wart
N. Wart becomes a fish and almost gets eaten by a bigger fish
O. Wart cleans pots and pans in the kitchen by hand
O. Merlin uses magic to clean the pots and pans faster
N. Wart becomes a squirrel and almost gets eaten by a wolf
M. Kay’s training is interrupted by Merlin’s magic in the kitchen
L. Wart gets replaced by Hobbs as Kay’s squire
K. Merlin turns Wart into a bird
J. Wart disappears down a chimney and is forced to stay by Madam Mim
I. Merlin and Mim have a wizards’ duel, fighting with magic
H. Merlin shrinks himself into a germ
G. Merlin cuts a hole in Mim’s roof to let sunlight in
F. Wart is reinstated as Kay’s squire, disappointing Merlin
E. Kay chases Wart off to get his sword at the inn
D. Wart pulls the sword from the stone after some trepidation
C. Others fail to pull the sword from the stone, and only Wart succeeds
B. Merlin reappears to help King Arthur
A. King Arthur learns that he will be renowned in the future
This is a nice short chiasmus compared to most of the others I’ve done in the past. So it’ll be easy to breeze through each of these points in no time.
A. King Arthur
At the start of the film, a book opens and it notes that the king of England died without an heir.
At the end of the film, Merlin tells the new king of England that books will be written and films will be made about him.
B. Magical Entry
To select a new king of England, the Sword in the Stone appears from heaven. Only one who is worthy and ordained by God will be able to pull the sword from the stone. But no one knows who will be able to do it.
To help the new king of England, a wizard named Merlin reappears after a long journey to the future. A talking owl named Archimedes tells Merlin that Arthur pulled the sword from the stone. Merlin isn’t surprised at all.
C. Who Can Pull the Sword from the Stone?
The narrator says that many men tried to pull the sword from the stone, but they all failed. None of them were worthy of being crowned king.
A knight named Kay and many other strong men try to pull the sword from the stone, but they all fail. Only Arthur, a little boy nicknamed Wart, is able to do it and become king.
D. Heavenly Vision
Merlin angrily draws water from a well near his home. He goes into his home and uses the water to prepare tea for a visitor he is expecting to come soon. He sees a vision of a young boy who is destined to become king of England. His pet owl Archimedes gets his introduction here.
Wart joyfully spots the Sword in the Stone near his inn. He goes into the churchyard and begins to pull on the sword, which leads to heavenly light falling on him like a vision. He eventually pulls the sword out, which marks him as the king of England. Archimedes tells him to leave immediately.
E. Kay Chases Wart Away
Wart and Kay go on a hunting trip to kill a deer. Wart accidentally falls on Kay, causing him to shoot his arrow into a forest instead of into a deer. Kay swings his bow at Wart and trips over a fallen log, while Wart runs into the forest to retrieve the arrow.
Wart and Kay are at a tournament to determine who will be the new king. Wart forgets Kay’s sword at the inn, causing Kay to become enraged. He swings his lance at Wart and trips over some weapons, while Wart runs back to the inn to retrieve Kay’s sword.
F. Wart Disappoints
Wart wanders through the forest in search of Kay’s arrow. A wolf notices him and decides he’ll be a much better replacement for the bone it’s been gnawing. Wart begins climbing a tree, and he nearly falls off a branch. When he doesn’t fall into the wolf’s open mouth, it is extremely disappointed.
Sir Ector discovers that a young man named Hobbs is sick, and he can’t be Kay’s squire. So he tells Wart he can replace him as Kay’s squire once more. Wart is so excited, he falls down a flight of stairs. When Merlin learns about this, he is extremely disappointed and blasts off to Bermuda.
G. Hole in the Roof
Just before he can grab Kay’s arrow, Wart falls off a tree and cuts a hole in the roof of Merlin’s house. Archimedes claims to dislike the boy almost immediately, so he flies to his birdhouse and shuts the door. Merlin tells Wart he needs to receive a decent education. Wart is currently only learning about combat, though.
Just before he leaves an evil witch’s house, Merlin uses his cane to poke a hole in her roof and allow sunlight in. She says that she hates sunlight, and she tries to hide her face in her hair. Merlin tells Wart that this experience was worth it if the boy learned something from it. Wart learned that knowledge and wisdom is the real power.
H. Merlin Shrinks
To prepare for his journey, Merlin shrinks all of the books, cookware, and other items in his house and puts them into his travel bag.
To win a wizards’ duel, Merlin shrinks into a tiny germ, and he inserts himself into Madam Mim’s body to make her sick.
I. Mind Over Magic
Merlin and Wart are blissfully unaware of a wolf that is following them through the forest. The wolf wants to eat them, but it keeps failing. At one point, they accidentally roll a rock down a hill at the wolf, making it run away. As they walk, Merlin notes that magic can’t solve every problem, and Wart needs to use his mind.
Merlin and Madam Mim begin a wizards’ duel, and they keep turning into different animals to confuse each other. They are trying to kill each other, but they keep getting outfoxed. At one point, Merlin purposefully puts a rock over a hole in the ground to make Mim run into it. As they fight, Mim keeps breaking the rules, so Merlin has to outsmart her.
J. Disappearing Trick
On his first introduction to the castle where Wart lives, Merlin is confronted by Sir Ector and his son Kay. Ector demands that Merlin leave, but Merlin disappears in a puff of magic. Merlin says that he doesn’t use black magic, and he only uses his magic for good. Eventually, Ector invites him to stay. But he lies about the accommodations and puts him in the worst place in the castle.
On his first introduction to flying with Archimedes, Wart is confronted by a deadly hawk. Wart tries to get away from the hawk, and he disappears down a chimney in a puff of smoke and soot. He meets Madam Mim, who says that she uses black sorcery for evil purposes. Eventually, she tries to force him to stay. She lies and turns into a cat to chase him and try to eat him before Merlin arrives.
K. Being a Bird
During a violent rainstorm in their leaky tower, Merlin and Archimedes get soaked. Merlin demands his pet owl fly down and learn what’s happening inside the castle. Archimedes refuses until Merlin threatens to turn him into a human.
After a disastrous demonstration of a toy airplane from their tower, the airplane crashes into the water and Merlin gets mocked by Archimedes. Wart expresses a wish to be able to fly, which Merlin grants by turning him into a bird. Then Archimedes insists on taking him under his wing to teach him about being a bird.
L. Kay’s Squire
Sir Ector and Kay learn that there’s going to be a jousting tournament to select the next king of England. Then Ector picks Wart to be Kay’s squire at the tournament. Wart is so overjoyed, he falls down a flight of stairs.
Ector and Kay fear that Merlin could put an evil spell on them, but Wart speaks up in his defense. In retaliation, Ector tells Wart that Hobbs will be Kay’s squire at the tournament. Wart is heartbroken, but Merlin tries to cheer him up.
M. Joust Desserts
Kay’s first attempt at jousting is a disaster. His training isn’t going so well, while Wart dutifully uses a broom and other devices to put together a jousting dummy. Merlin oversees the spectacle and decides to help Wart.
Kay’s joust training gets interrupted by a scream from the kitchen. He finds the kitchen in disarray because Merlin’s magic has made brooms, pots, and other utensils come to life. Merlin walks in and puts a stop to the magic, which was meant to help Wart.
N. Animal Adventures
Merlin turns Wart into a fish, and then he becomes a fish himself. They learn how to swim, and then a larger fish chases Wart, trying to eat him. Wart has to use his mind to outsmart the big fish and get out of that dangerous situation. After Wart becomes human again, he gets punished by Sir Ector for supposedly lying about his fish story.
As squirrels, Wart finds a handsy girl admirer, and Merlin finds one himself. At first, it’s all fun and games, but a wolf comes and threatens to eat Wart. Wart’s squirrel girlfriend comes to the rescue and helps him get out of that dangerous situation. After Wart becomes human again, the poor squirrel’s heart breaks when she sees the truth that he’s not really a squirrel after all.
O. Magic Does the Work
The turning point comes in the form of a contradictory lesson from Merlin. Wart is in the kitchen washing a big cauldron by hand with a brush. There are many other dishes to clean, too. Merlin interrupts him and says there’s more he wants to teach the boy. But Wart says he can’t go until his work is done.
Contradicting his earlier words that magic can’t solve every problem, Merlin uses magic to start cleaning all of the dishes. He organizes an assembly line of plates and other utensils to be cleaned and put away. Then he tells Wart that it doesn’t matter how the job gets done, as long as it gets done. They leave while magic does all the work.
I suppose Merlin’s point is that there are more important things to do than these menial tasks. But he could have gone about it in a more educational way instead of coming across as a hypocrite. Magic does serve a good purpose, but only if it doesn’t replace personal responsibility. Much like modern technology. The only way that Wart becomes King Arthur is by taking matters into his own hands. Later, in the churchyard, he doesn’t have Merlin by his side to guide him at that critical moment. Archimedes is the real hero of the story because he’s like a guardian angel over the boy, pointing him in the right direction and letting him do the rest.
Hopefully Merlin’s visit to the future makes him a little wiser and a better advisor to King Arthur at the end of the film, which also happens to be the beginning of the chiasmus. The turning point of the chiasmus highlights Merlin’s immaturity in some ways. Wart does learn a lot of things about what makes the world go round from Merlin. But none of that really makes a difference in the boy pulling the sword from the stone. He had that natural gift in him the whole time.
Long Live the King
This has been a pleasure to write. Another reason this article is significant is that it is the first time I’m publishing back-to-back Cinematic Chiasmus articles. At best in the past, I had a week in between them. These articles take a lot of work to put together. So this is quite an achievement for me to do two in a row.
I wasn’t lying when I said I’ve got a whole bunch of these planned out. It’s just a matter of writing them and gathering images from the films. The ones I have left are pretty big, so it might take me a while to do another. I’m not going to try for three in a row. But I promise I have plenty more in store.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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