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  • The Grail, the Quest, and the World of Arthur
  • Rosemarie McGerr
The Grail, the Quest, and the World of Arthur. Edited by Norris J. Lacy. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2008. Arthurian Studies, 72. Pp. xvii + 214; 54 illustrations; and fold-out chart. $95.

With this book, Norris Lacy continues his success in finding innovative ways to approach Arthurian literature. This book offers a collection of twelve essays, plus a foreword, an appendix on Grail films, and a fold-out chart offering a comparative analysis of Grail scenes in narratives in several languages from the twelfth through the sixteenth century. High-quality illustrations accompany three of the essays. The primary feature of the book is its bringing together a wide range of stimulating studies that address the relationship of the Grail and the quest in Arthurian literature. As Lacy’s foreword explains, eight of the essays originated as papers for a Heritage Studies Conference on the same topic at Penn State University in 2007; but these have been rounded out with complementary studies to create an excellent group of essays on Arthurian tradition (broadly defined) by scholars from a wide range of literatures, as well as history, history of art, and film. [End Page 252]

In “Introduction: Arthur and/or the Grail,” Lacy addresses the intriguing role that the quest for the Grail plays in Arthurian literature, occurring in so many different narrative forms, with different heroes and different resolutions, and often appearing to offer a counternarrative to the trajectory of Arthur’s reign. Lacy introduces the book’s goal of trying to explain the extensive interweaving of Grail-quest elements in Arthurian tradition, but demonstrates in the process the challenge of coming to firm conclusions while addressing the variety of texts that include Grail quests or similar quests. Even after excluding the Welsh texts that draw on Celtic myths with quests for cauldrons and other fertility objects, Lacy runs into difficulty when he doesn’t qualify his statements, such as when he identifies Galahad as the only knight destined to success on the Grail quest or declares that Camelot must fall when the Grail quest has concluded. As Lacy admits, although many accept the French Queste as the canonical version of the Grail quest, “few texts actually follow it closely” (p. 7). He also admits that he skips over “large numbers of medieval texts that merit discussion” in his analysis (p. 8). Lacy goes on to demonstrate that the Grail quest maintains a central role in later Arthurian tradition, as well as in popular and professional discourses (from sports to science), even in the twenty-first century. His introduction thus sets the stage for the variety of perspectives offered by the essays that follow.

The most wide-ranging of these essays is “The Shape of the Grail in Medieval Art” by Martine Meuwese, which shows how the vagueness of descriptions of the Grail in early medieval texts led to a diversity of artistic representations of the Grail, even in illustrations within a single manuscript copy. Meuwese also shows how representations of other holy objects influenced early visual representations of the Grail and helped to shape beliefs about the Grail, and she discusses religious artifacts that have been presented as Grails from the late Middle Ages down to the present day. More focused in time frame and number of texts discussed is “The Crusaders’ Grail” by Antonio L. Furtado, which suggests that several aspects of Le Conte du Graal by Chrétien de Troyes may have had their source in histories of the First Crusade. The next group of essays turns to more strictly literary analysis. Some of these treat more well-known Arthurian narratives from new perspectives: “Bounds of Imagination: Grail Questing and Chivalric Colonizing in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival” by Will Hasty; “Grail and Quest in the Medieval English World of Arthur” by Phillip Boardman; and “Malory and the Grail: The Importance of Detail” by P. J. C. Field. Other essays in this group treat texts that have not yet received widespread discussion in Arthurian critical analysis but provide important contrast and context for the more well-known texts: “The Land without the Grail: A Note...


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pp. 252-255
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