Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Quest Of The Holy Grail

The Quest of the Holy Grail
Trans. P. M. Matarasso
Penguin Books
Copyright Date: 1969

The back jacket blurb:
The fusion of fabulous legend and Christian symbolism gives The Quest a tragic grandeur and mystical aura.

The richly colourful word of the court of King Arthur is the setting for a story that was intended on another level as a guide to the spiritual life, aimed at the court rather than the cloister. Chivalrous adventurers like Gawain, Lancelot and the saintly Galahad journey across a land strewn with fantastic dangers, temptations and false promises. Combining Celtic myth and Arthurian romance, The Quest is an absorbing and radiant allegory of man's equally perilous search for the grace of God.

The Quest of the Holy Grail is many things: engaging, fun, exciting, and to one living in the medieval world, educational. The translator figures that the work dates to between 1215 and 1230. It is also of British authorship and is described as being a spiritual fable rather than a romance. It is also considered to be a part of the Prose Lancelot cycle.

Thank goodness for the footnotes and the endnotes though. The former mark the (many) references to scripture and the Bible, while the latter explain details of the translation, source myth and other things, including explaining biblical references in more detail. It really is a fascinating read, even on re-reading. This is the second time I've read this work, although it has been a few years (it was one of the textbooks for a class on Arthurian Literature I took a few years ago).

On the other hand, I found it a bit heavy handed at times. The knights are always having visions and running off to the nearest (usually conveniently located) hermit/priest to get them explained. Which raises a question. Some of these hermits had servants and seemed to be part of large cloisters. I've always been given to understand that being a hermit was supposed to be a solitary way of life.

In terms of structure, the work follows first one knight or group of knights, then another. The main Knightly figures of the Quest are: Lancelot, Gawain, Galahad, Bors and Perceval, although others are mentioned and at times do play roles: Hector and Lionel are two of the latter.

The interpretations of the the characters are interesting too. I've been working my way slowly through the Middle-English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and there, Gawain is more or less a paragon, the best of the best. However, here, he's regarded as somewhat less. A comparison would be quite interesting. As would a similar look at the other characters of the Arthurian world.

Even with the spiritual and biblical layers, I found The Quest of the Grail to be a fairly light read, although there were times that I found that I could only read a few pages at a time.

I read The Quest Of The Grail for both the Arthurian Challenge and the Pre-Printing Press Challenge.

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