Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Sword in the Stone

Arthurian motif first introduced by Robert de Boron (?   -1212) in the early 13th century, repeated by Sir Thomas Malory and other writers subsequently. After the death of King Uther, Britain was without a sole ruler. Merlin placed a sword in a stone (or, in some versions, in a anvil set atop a stone) with the statement that it might be drawn only by the rightful new king. Contests took place, but no one could withdraw it until the young Arthur did, seeking a sword for his foster-brother Kay to use in a tournament. Kay at first claimed he had drawn the sword himself, but rapidly admitted Arthur had done so, and the feat was repeated for the benefit of the assembled company. Although Merlin proclaimed Arthur's kingship, the act of drawing the sword did not convince all of the leaders of the Britons, and Arthur had to face a series of battles to enforce his sovereignty. The SITS, although a symbol of his kingship, seems to have conferred no specific magical powers. It is not the same sword as Excalibur, and after the kingmaking plays little part in the Cycle. The phrase was adopted by T H White as the title for the first volume of The Once and Future King (1958). Another sword in a stone appears in the cycle attached to the Grail: Arthur's knights see a sword in a stone floating down a river, bearing an inscription that only the best knight in the world might draw it. This proves to be Galahad. [KLM]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.