PERCEVAL The Story of the Grail
Chrétien de Troyes’ Perceval is the most important single Arthurian romance. It contains the very first mention of the mysterious grail, later to become the Holy Grail and the focal point of the spiritual quest of the knights of Arthur’s court. Chrétien left the poem unfinished, but the extraordinary and intriguing theme of the Grail was too good to leave, and other poets continued and eventually completed it. This is the only English translation to include selections from the three continuations and from the work of Gerbert de Montreuil, making the romance a coherent whole, and following through Chrétien’s essential theme of the making of a knight, in both worldly and spiritual terms. It is not hard to see why Chrétien’s unfinished story of the Grail proved such a compelling story, for its fundamental theme could hardly have ben bolder, clearer, or move movingly simple – or more important to its medieval audience. It is about the making of a knight in the most complete sense. It is not by chance that the story begins with a boy who had been brought up in a remote forest with no knowledge whatever of the world of knighthood, and with only the haziest understanding of matters religious – he does not even know what a church is, let alone a knight’s hauberk, shield or lance. Chrétien’s plan is so forthright and sweeping that the sets out to depict a knight’s development from a point of total innocence and ignorance. The importance of the spiritual alongside the martial in the development of a knight, symbolised so powerfully by the Broken Sword, is a constantly recurring theme. Gerbert de Montreuil, whose poem is by far the most inspired and methodical continuation of Chrétien’s themes, shows by his handling of the broken sword motif that he was acutely aware of how much remained to be done before Perceval was fully worthy to know the secrets of the grail and the lance. Nigel Bryant’s fluent and engaging translation, with his useful opening introduction to the subject and texts, makes this an absorbing account of the essential Arthurian romance, the origin of the Grail legend. Read with warmth and engagement by Mike Rogers.
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