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Lancelot en prose #2

The Quest of the Holy Grail

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Composed by an unknown author in early thirteenth-century France, The Quest of the Holy Grail is a fusion of Arthurian legend and Christian symbolism, reinterpreting ancient Celtic myth as a profound spiritual fable. It recounts the quest of the knights of Camelot - the simple Perceval, the thoughtful Bors, the rash Gawain, the weak Lancelot and the saintly Galahad - as they journey through danger and temptation to reach the elusive Holy Grail. But only one of them is judged worthy to see the mysteries within the sacred vessel, and look upon the ineffable. Enfused with tragic grandeur and an aura of mysticism, The Quest is an absorbing and radiant allegory of man's perilous search for divine grace, and had a profound influence on later Arthurian romances and versions of the Grail legend.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

304 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1230

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 73 reviews
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,535 reviews1,791 followers
September 2, 2019
This is the story of the Quest for the Holy Grail by the knights of King Arthur's court. The ideal of knighthood here is a spiritual one so the flawed and worldly Lancelot is replaced as foremost knight by his unsullied son, Galahad.

Combat and the perils described here are also spiritual, spurring your horse into battle to aid the weaker side runs the risk of aiding the devils fighting against the angels. An incident which is repeated in several variations - not spurring your horse forward may also aid the Devils fighting the angels - the knight needs to cultivate spiritual insight. Is the old hermit going to help guide them to God or lead them astray? The woods are full of danger. The landscape is mystical. Almost as soon as the knights ride out from Camelot they are in the unfamiliar territory of spiritual warfare manifest in the form of an unfamiliar forest, a region where the evil customs of castles demand terrible sacrifices, a noble lady suffering from leprosy can only be cured by bathing in the blood of an innocent and sweet maiden (co-incidentally the sister of a questing knight), how much blood will suffice for the cure? About eight pints, or five litres and look there's a custom made blood bath already prepared. Such sacrifices are nevertheless honoured and observed, thus ensuring that few knights survive the quest and even fewer come close to the Holy Grail.

A very dreamy book.
Profile Image for Suzannah.
Author 27 books462 followers
January 4, 2020
I loved this so much. The Quest of the Grail was by a significant margin my favourite bit of Malory; and this book is the expanded version which Malory condensed, so I was bound to love it.

A dreamlike knightly romance that doubles as a spiritual guidebook for the noble classes, this book would have been both deeply convicting and encouragingly aspirational to its audience, in its day. Convicting, because it paints a grim picture of the wrath, lust, and bloodthirstiness that characterised the noble classes; aspirational, because it tried to show them a way to serve God and do good in their occupation. The real medieval Arthurian literature makes no sense if we insist on seeing the heroes as the Victorians did, unfailingly chivalrous gentlemen in shining armour. That was only the aspirational half of the picture; all the drama and pathos of the stories comes from the fact that in so many ways, neither the real thing nor the romantic heroes could measure up.

There is definitely some weirdness going on here with the fixation on virginity and the low view of women (though Matarasso points out with some justification that in practice the author gives women a higher place in the story than his more disparaging comments would warrant). But overall, I couldn't get over what an incredible challenge this book must have posed to the whole idea of medieval knighthood. This story dares to paint a picture for the knightly class of a new kind of knighthood, one in which righteousness is worth more than honour, serving God is more important than one's own glory and physical power is no longer the measure of knightliness. True, some things go unchallenged - the rank snobbery that always characterised medievalism, for one thing; if you look closely you'll realise that all the hermits and recluses are actually retired nobles with households full of servants and chaplains, which means that none of our heroes is ever given spiritual instruction by a social inferior. But most of the time, after spending my last few years immersed in the history of the twelfth and thirteenth century, reading this felt like being on the receiving end of a flamethrower. I can only dimly imagine how this book must have affected its target audience; I imagine it must have been equal parts enchanting and agonising.
Profile Image for Jacob Aitken.
1,579 reviews259 followers
August 13, 2015
Although choppy at times, and the characters seem to be superhuman in terms of combat and piety, this remarkable book is useful on a number of levels.

What many reviewers fail to note is that this book was intended primarily to be a manual on spiritual growth, not to tell stories of great knights. Given the original audience, this makes sense. The average peasant in the 12th century would not be able to follow scholastic reasoning, but they would be able to follow a story of heroism and spiritual warfare.

This book anticipates many of the elements of the future novel: numerous side-plots where the characters branch off but stay united through the author's skillful weaving of the different strands of the narrative. This allows the author to simultaneously develop different characters, build the plot, and release tension at different climaxes without stealing his thunder for the ultimate Grail climax.

Modern day readers, whether Protestant or Catholic, will chafe at some of the author's theology. The author, in line with medieval ethics, viewed sex and Concupiscence in a negative light (the author's exegesis of the Genesis account would not stand today's scrutiny).

It would probably pay well to read this in light of Tennyson's account. The Grail story for our author here speaks of redemption (if sometimes in an extreme semi-Pelagian sense) as a reality and man's goal as utter self-abandonment to God. Tennyson, being a respectable Victorian, does not have a sense of redemption (but ironically, a strong sense of sin) and views man's goal as respectability in society. In terms of ethics, let's stick with the 12th century Grail account.
Profile Image for Mary Overton.
Author 1 book40 followers
August 4, 2009
From the Introduction by translator P.M. Matarasso: "The QUESTE DEL SAINT GRAAL despite its Arthurian setting is not a romance, it is a spiritual fable. This may seem surprising in view of the fact it forms part of a vast compilation know as the PROSE LANCELOT, which might justifiably be called the romance to end romances. It is less surprising however when one considers that it is the product of a period when things were rarely quite what they seemed, when the outward appearance was merely a garment in which to dress some inward truth, when the material world was but a veil through which the immutable could be sporadically glimpsed and perpetually reinterpreted. "(9)

As King Arthur's knights gather at the Round Table: "When they were all seated and the noise was hushed, there came a clap of thunder so loud and terrible that they thought the palace must fall. Suddenly the hall was lit by a sunbeam which shed a radiance through the palace seven times brighter than had been before. In this moment they were all illumined as it might be by the grace of the Holy Ghost .... When they had sat a long while thus, unable to speak and gazing at one another like dumb animals, the Holy Grail appeared ... and yet no mortal hand was seen to bear it." (43-44)

Lancelot is admonished by a hermit on the sin of squandering one's gifts: "'Sir, you owe God a great return for creating you so fair and valiant .... He has lent you understanding and memory, and you must so use them for good, that His love being kept perfect in you, the devil may derive no profit from the great gifts God has given you.'" (87)

Another holy man tells Gawain: "'Do not imagine moreover that the adventures now afoot consist in the murder of men or the slaying of knights; they are of a spiritual order, higher in every way and much more worth.'" (174)
Profile Image for Ian Slater.
42 reviews10 followers
August 24, 2018
This is a modern translation of a work incorporated into Malory's "Morte D'Arthur," and at first glance there would seem to be no need for an new translation in the face of that monument. Yet this is the second of three that I know of.

There is good reason for this situation. Malory cut what he didn't like or understand, had a different understanding of the Grail than the thirteenth-century text he was translating in the fifteenth century, and had to make use of whatever manuscript came to hand.

Those seriously interested in Arthurian literature will definitely want to read a complete version, based on a carefully edited Old French text edition. So it was worth translating.

"The Quest" was composed as part of the Lancelot-Grail sequence (one of the translations can be found under that series title), part of what modern scholars call the Vulgate (commonly accepted) Cycle. It features Galahad as the primary hero of the Quest, an innovation; Perceval, the original quest hero in Chretien de Troyes' unfinished "Story of the Graal," has a secondary role.

The Grail itself is treated, as in some, but not, all, prior versions, as a Christian relic, and the Quest has its own spiritual interpretation of it, and the ecstatic Vision of the Grail. (What Chretien intended for his "graal," or serving dish, is up for speculation.)
Profile Image for Vida.
14 reviews5 followers
July 9, 2012
This has easily become my favorite book. For those who have or intend to embark on their own personal quest for the grail, this book serves as an inspiration with all of its symbology and displays of inner strength and faith. The relatable qualities of each knight and character is endearing. It is through their strength and weakness, success and failure that one sees how difficult the journey to the grail (enlightenment) is. But, having Galahad reign most triumphant in all aspects of the quest gives one the realistic hope that it is all possible with the right effort.

Or, if you're not into the spiritual aspects of this tale, it has enough awesome battles, adventures, love, betrayal, magic and mystery to keep you safely on the edge of your seat.
Profile Image for Zadignose.
251 reviews149 followers
December 29, 2021
This is, in general, a well-told tale with several peculiar adventures. It does not have the same literary aspirations as are to be seen in some other medieval works on chivalrous knights such as Wolfram's Parzival, Gottfried's Tristan, the anonymous Gawain and the Green Knight or Chrétien's Yvain: The Knight of the Lion. Rather, The Quest of the Holy Grail has more explicitly didactic goals. It uses the the attractive form of a series of adventures to serve as an illustrative parable on the values of Christian faith.

The form of the book basically repeats the pattern of remarkable adventure followed by a visit to priest or monk who explains the meaning of various experiences and visions, followed by another adventure, followed by another explanation, etcetera. Several intertwined narrative threads follow the adventures of a cast of knights who cross paths, part, reunite, and so on. The quest, while it appears outwardly to be a worldly adventure, is actually a spiritual quest--and the grand prize is a dinner date with Jesus. Spiritually speaking, that is... and there's God's grace and salvation and all the rest of that. The grail itself is something that nourishes, in a sense, but it becomes clear that nourishing the soul is what it's really all about--more of a eucharist than a tasty buffet.

Lancelot, while he is the most nearly successful of all those who fail in the quest, gets humbled quite a lot for having lived a life of sin, principally through adultery and pride. It seems the author really had it in for Lancelot as a symbol of a worldly success who is morally tainted. Galahad, his bastard son, on the contrary, is the perfection of knighthood due to his virginity and his absolute unshakable faith in Christ. Percival and Bors get to tag along and enjoy glory due to their religious conviction and purity, though they have also stumbled in sin (Percival in thought, Bors in deed) in earlier times in their lives. Gawain is fundamentally a hopeless clod because of his unwillingness to do penance for his sins though he is well aware of his flaws and willing to confess. He lacks spiritual fortitude, it seems and can't tame his ambition enough to do the serious self-criticism that is necessary to correct his course. And most of the other knights who embark on the quest are doomed to frustration, failure, and thorough humiliation because they are too mired in sin.

Miraculous happenings abound, including plenty of angelic voices and direct divine intervention, including lighting blasts and fiery hands from the sky. At times the repeated theme of Galahad having been foreordained for greatness and his role as a Christ-like figure become... a bit too much. But overall, it's an engaging reading experience, and it's fairly thought provoking as well.
Profile Image for Matthew.
82 reviews16 followers
May 15, 2015
After reading The Mystery of King Arthur, I was in the mood for more of the Matter of Britain, so I read this volume, one I'd received for Christmas from my brother Michael some years ago.

The Quest of the Holy Grail is excellent. Matarasso's 20-page introduction is definitely worth the read -- she gives enough information and context for one to enjoy the book, but it doesn't feel weighed down or unbearable the way some introductions do. The key to understanding this text, as Matarasso observes, is that it is not simply a plain adventure (although there is a lot of that!). Instead, this is a spiritual text -- but not properly allegorical. Rather, The Quest of the Holy Grail turns courtly love on his head, placing Christian perfection in its place.

Thus, Lancelot is taken from the heights and plunged to the depths where he must undergo penance for his full-on embrace of the worldly ideal of the knight and, especially, his full-on embrace of Queen Guenevere. Gawain, the second-greatest of Arthur's knights, is ever on the outside in this quest, finding few adventures, and running afoul of everyone he meets -- the sinner who says he'll repent but then goes and accidentally kills a friend without remorse.

Besides the two sinners -- one, a penitent, the other the kind who gets what he deserves -- we have the three Grail Companions: Sir Galahad, Sir Perceval, and Sir Bors. The first two are virgins, the third a chaste penitent who once had relations with a woman but now lives in purity. If the Knights of the Round Table weren't perpetually in their early 20s, I wonder if a faithful married man would have been able to find the Grail! Here, instead, we have the mediaeval ascetic ideal of virginity upheld as one of the greatest virtues a noble can have.

Galahad is, of course, the noblest and least sinful of the knights. He, Perceval, and Bors meet with various test and temptations, but -- unlike Gawain, for example -- fall into no sin. They are the model warriors; not only are they the best in a tournament, they rescue the weak and protect women; they resist sexual temptation; they live simply, eating only bread and water; they hear Mass and attend Vespers regularly; they heed the advice of the hermits, monks, and nuns they meet along the way.

Throughout the book the knights enact their own allegories, which is kind of weird but kind of fun. The meanings of the enacted allegories or allegorical dreams are unveiled to them by the various hermits and monks they meet. It seems most of England is populated by hermits and monks. Sometimes a castle. Nary a farmer in sight.

Finally, from various persons encountered by different knights as they quest, we learn throughout the book the story of the Grail and its guardians, from Joseph of Arimathea to King Pelles and Castle Corbenic.

The translation is written in a timeless English prose that, while it may feel archaic, moves with a speed and vivacity befitting the tale told herein. I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Yann.
1,407 reviews330 followers
July 23, 2011
La quête du Saint-Graal est un roman de chevalerie particulièrement mystique, ou nos héros de la table ronde sont soumis à rude épreuve, car c'est contre propres faiblesses qu'ils devront vaincre pour être digne de l'honneur de servir le Christ, comme le découvre amèrement Lancelot. On découvre donc la différence subtile entre virginité et pucelage, maints rêves sont décryptés par des ermites, moult prodiges et miracles viennent étonner les chevaliers qui entreprennent cette quête pour leur plus grand honneur et au grand dam du roi Arthur qui voit s'éloigner de lui ses chers compagnons. Très agréable.
Profile Image for Olga.
8 reviews5 followers
September 2, 2011
If you are looking for spiritual symbolism, spiritual teachings and metaphoric analogies for enlightenment and spiritual quests etc.. you will find it in the Quest of the Holy Grail.

This book is by far the best of the Arthurian Legends, seeming the most authentic and undistorted.

It is right on my top 3 spiritual books along with The Bhagavad Gītā and The Flight of the Feathered Serpant which have each touched me and inspired me very unexpectantly.

I truly had no expectations when I picked up this book, interested about the mystery of the 'Holy Grail' at first, but this book completely left an imprint on me and my views of spirituality. Although there are deep christian references in this book, such as confessing sins, devotion to Christ, fasting, christian burial, penance etc.. for me they are no doubt metaphorical for a greater spiritual journey that was lost in the external teachings of the church, but are abound and deeply empregnated symbolically in this very mystical text. To me this book is far superior then the commercially acclaimed novels out there, and has the message of the true Quest of the Holy Grail, only it is not obvious, because for you to know it, it is as though you would need to take this journey yourself, even a little, instead of leaving it as an intellectual concept or fairytale.

The whole 'Quest of The Holy Grail', to me was this deeper profound quest for Enlightenment, with different adventures, difficulties, trials and temptations that would determine and explain the attitude needed to go through the different trials and adventures of life in order to be successful in reaching Enlightenment,Salvation etc.. This quest was not for any elite but it would highlight honest characters that craved for being virtuous and worthy of divinity, which is seldom talked about in the world today. It was very interesting to see the reason behind why a person would fail, and the text offered insight on the mistakes or 'sins' that caused the weakness of the Knight that trailed off the direction of the grail, whether it was due to Pride, Lust, Envy etc.. very insightful when put into the context of a spiritual allegory.

I really really loved this book :) Highly recommended for the spiritual seekers out there!
332 reviews1 follower
October 10, 2012
The book was recommended by the instructor for a course on the origins of the myths about King Arthur. It was meant to be, for us, an introduction to the characters surrounding Arthur and succeeds on that level. But when the translator (the author is unknown) tells you in the introduction that this story is a spiritual fable, she is not understating the problem that many of us are going to have reading it.

And we're talking about Christianity in its early stages, just following the dark ages and still feeling somewhat threatened by perceived paganism. These are knights who spend hours in prayer, who seek to be shriven and/or attend mass at nearly every opportunity, who weep at every sign that God in any of its guises is speaking to them. And God seems never to pass on a chance to do so.

For all that, the theology seems a bit murky to me. But the story of the attempts of a bunch of grown men to go in search of a piece of tableware that was used in the Last Supper are mostly familiar. We mostly follow Lancelot and his bastard son, Galahad. I would have preferred the stories of the court but that's not this book.

There's plenty of blood, too much blood. And there's enough mysticism to keep the Church floating for a couple hundred years while waiting for the Renaissance. You'll learn a great deal of the dangers of carnal intercourse, it seems to have been a major obsession of the Church even back then. And you'll also learn that abstaining from sex will never suffice, you can't even be wanting it. A little more charity and compassion would have gone a long way.

In short, the characters are there and some of the stories are there but you will have to wade through a lot of spiritual journeys of questionable value. If you don't mind that, go for it.

Subject matter aside, this was not badly written or translated.
Profile Image for Roumissette.
20 reviews8 followers
August 14, 2011
This is a great little spiritual book that was recommended to me by a friend. I did not know what to expect and thought that all I needed to know about Lancelot was that he was the knight that steals his best friend and King's wife; but the story was written as a spiritual text, to teach people about enlightenment. It was then used as inspiration for other texts on forbidden love.

But this book rocks. Galahad is amazing in terms of showing the behavior and standards required to be worthy of receiving the Holy Grail, the monks are cunning, and each story shows and explains what enlightenment is all about.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, which I have read already several times.

And it's great to see that this ancient book talks about visions that people have in their sleep (otherwise known as Out-of-Body Experiences = OBEs) and it is obvious that though it was written in the middle ages, at least OBEs were verily accepted back then.
Profile Image for Samantha.
40 reviews12 followers
February 19, 2022
True rating: 4.5 stars

I approached this story with an academic mindset because it was assigned reading. From that standpoint, this is an incredibly meaty book with so much to tear into and dissect and examine. The root of it, the entire point of it, is that the monk who wrote it has decided to inform his contemporary countrymen that they are all deplorable sinners and therefore God has taken the Holy Grail from their shores and deposited it in the holy land. They have to repent and turn back onto the path of righteousness to regain His favor. He takes Arthur's knights, who were well-loved and known by the time of this story's completion, and flips the favorites and most prominent members among them on their heads. Lancelot, for example, goes from the ideal knight and courtly lover to deplorable sinner who has sinned beyond sin (for his love of and adultery with Guinevere) and who has been abandoned by God.

In the place of knights like Lancelot and Gawain stands a new knight of his own creation, Galahad. He is a self-insert Christ figure (a fact that is openly acknowledged in the story). His background mirrors King Arthur's. In terms of the number of pages that he actually appears in the book, he mirrors King Arthur in that too. The King Arthur stories are more about his knights than Arthur himself in many cases. Galahad is the main character, but like Arthur, he hardly appears. This story is more about Arthur's original knights learning the ways in which they have sinned and either choosing to repent or returning to Camelot in disgrace. So too, Galahad appears intermittently to remind the reader who the hero is and how perfect he is in comparison with the other knights.

I won't reveal who, but like in many tales, three is the magic number. Three knights out of the hundreds who set out on the quest are admitted entry into the chamber that houses the Holy Grail. God reveals its mysteries to them, mysteries that are beyond explanation or imagining.

Fair warning to any who might pick it up: this is a religious work. It is very preachy. It is like reading the bible with Arthur's knights inserted into it. The Quest is not an earthly quest, but a spiritual one. It is faith and not prowess in battle that is tested over and over. Once you get used to that, it is an interesting and really good story. I would have read it for its entertainment value even if it wasn't assigned.
Profile Image for Rex.
223 reviews32 followers
January 27, 2022
The original French Queste is vastly more interesting to my eyes than Malory’s stripped-down imitation. In this tale, the knights of the Round Table find themselves bound to deadly wandering through a labyrinth of forests and rivers. Mere knightly prowess is unavailing, and Lancelot in particular, the greatest of knights save one, is humbled for his lust and pride. The melancholy result of this episode is the death of many good knights and the withdrawal of the Holy Grail from a Logres that has proved unworthy. Along the way, the cast of knights encounters a parade of spiritual allegories. Fortunately, there is usually a hermit near to hand to explain these encounters to the befuddled paladins. It is this pervasive and colorful religious symbolism that lends the Queste its peculiar magic; the Christian knights, each vividly characterized (except Galahad, who is embodied perfection), navigate the lofty, Cistercian-influenced expectations of their calling: virginity in body and soul, and unhesitating service of the divine liege-lord. The Lord’s enemies are everywhere, whether wicked men or unearthly fiends, and must be battled even unto martyrdom. The reward of purity and perseverance, given only to a few, is a mystical encounter with the Christ-King and an invitation into his company. As a raptured bishop puts it late in the story, “that same service I performed on earth I still discharge in heaven.” In the Queste, the other world is indeed very near.
Profile Image for Naomi Rae.
86 reviews
November 2, 2020
Read for lit class. The first half or so of the book, I found the plot and characters and premise intriguing and hoped I would enjoy this book a little more than the other books for this class. It’s still an older book so the language makes it easy to zone out, but the beginning was interesting enough. I slowly started to pick up on the sexism and weird obsession with virginity, which I know wasn’t unusual at the time, but it did make me like the book a lot less than I would have. Towards the end, it just started to get confusing for me, which if I reread the book I feel that it would start to make more sense, but unless I need to for my assignments I don’t think I’ll want to reread this one.
Profile Image for Persephone Abbott.
Author 2 books15 followers
February 16, 2018
You know there is a marvelous story about a man and his posse, come from a far, crescent region, enough to inspire island locals or incite jealousy. But let’s not be blasphemous. No, let’s politically integrate identities and reap the rewards in good company and hospitality, well just in case we all fall into disfavor.

It’s rural, it’s travel, it’s communication points, it’s holy sites, it’s territorial. It fills a void. Accessories optional.
Profile Image for Philosophia.
25 reviews10 followers
March 20, 2023
A sad example of a Chivalric Romance that hates all the beautiful things a Chivalric Romance stands for, but also some funky little guys going on funky little adventures.

Bonus points for the theology on swans (the birds in this book bumped it up to three stars).

The obsession with virginity in this text is also really weird and uncomfortable, but its focused on male virginity so woo representation and diversity ig?
Profile Image for Anna Groover.
208 reviews35 followers
March 18, 2019
Best Bible fanfic I’ve ever read

(Bonus points to me for taking 200 pages to realize that “Saint Graal” means “Holy Grail” and not some random saint with the name “Graal”)
Profile Image for Reuben Wood.
40 reviews
July 25, 2021
Somewhat formulaic and repetitive as old books like this often are, but it was weird, wacky and well-written enough to be entertaining and interesting throughout.
Profile Image for Beatriz.
Author 4 books8 followers
February 4, 2022
The movie (Monty Python’s) is much better.

Seriously, though, this is what happens in pretty much every chapter:

Sir Baldobaldaugh is searching for the holy grail. Some knight attacks him. That knight is actually his friend, but they don’t recognize each other because they love to just start fighting for no reason. Now his buddy Pomodore the Ugly is dead.

Sir Baldobaldaugh sees a pigeon shit on a rock. He meets a random hermit and asks him the meaning of this.
“The bird shit represents you, who have fallen into mortal sin, represented by the rock. Yet somehow you, who sin as frequently as you breathe, thought you had a chance at the Holy Grail. The pigeon represents Galahad, who can do no wrong. He’s a much better knight than you, honestly how can you live with yourself, I’m going to spit at you now. The spit represents the disappointment of Jesus Christ.”
Profile Image for Richard Bartholomew.
Author 1 book10 followers
May 5, 2016
This tale is described as an "anti-Romance", with pious and virginal knights whose ideals are a critique of the "cult of the lady" and other aspects of courtly chivalry. As expected, the knights travel around rescuing maidens and attacking castles, but visions also abound and the landscape is dotted with mysterious chapels and innumerable hermits who pop up at convenient moments to give interpretations and religious discourses. Lancelot encounters several of these in a row while repenting his adultery with Guinevere; the point is laboured somewhat. A Christian overlay is imposed somewhat awkwardly on older Celtic material, but there is also some interesting apocryphal material about Adam and Eve, Solomon, and Joseph of Arimathea.
Profile Image for Andrew.
541 reviews17 followers
February 13, 2013
And now I see why Malory's quest for the Holy Grail always felt a disconnect from the rest of his work. This is certainly the most satisfying Grail quest I have read excepting perhaps Parzival which requires a complete reread at this point. It certainly suffers from the Medieval necessity to make everything a metaphor and to fully explain each and every vision of which there are many. Still, it is fresh water amidst the ocean of courtly love in Arthurian Lit.
Profile Image for Ed Smiley.
243 reviews36 followers
June 5, 2011
The translation is workable, and with copious footnotes for those who have't read much of the Bible. Yes, it's allegorical.

This is, in a way, thirteenth century revisionism, reworking the earlier naturalistic chivalric tradition and the Celtic mythos (can I say mythos without cracking up?... mythos, mythos, mythos, OK, it is a little pedantic, but I will let it stand).

It does not attempt to deconstruct gallantry as such, and still gives a shout out to incredible, and sometimes absurd feats of arms, but its requirements of of nobility are suffused with pretty damn rigorous demands of Christian purity. This book made me think a lot on The history and adventures of the renowned Don Quixote. Translated from the Spanish of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.By T. Smollet, M.D. The sixth edition corrected. In four volumes. Volume 1 of 4. That too is revisionist, but it is also highy deconstructive.

Anyway, it is knight errantry drenched in piety and allegory, and its charm is that it holds a rickety plotline, astonishing events, the personal spiritual journey, savage bloodshed, resonant symbols, conventional medieval theology, supernatural personalities, sacred visions, impossible achievements, and ecstatic visions all in a kind of tight-wound tension. It is very necessary to read sympathetically, and appreciate this tension with a kind of suspension, not merely of disbelief, but of modern sensibility, rational structure, and healthy mindedness, and then one starts to experience something of the uncanny, of the marvelous, something akin to dream.

I'm not sure to what degree the following is a spoiler, but I mark it as such, as it reveals a few details to let me get a foothold in doing a review. I don't think is ruins the suspense, or anything.

Profile Image for Harry Allagree.
782 reviews10 followers
May 3, 2020
"The Quest of the Holy Grail is the fourth of a set of five books commonly referred to as the Vulgate Cycle. The Quest was written around 1210 by an unknown author and translated by Pauline Matarasso in 1969."

Pauline Matarasso's translation, Introduction & Notes are invaluable in making sense of this book. It is a collection of stories of human events during the "adventures", of mostly knights, ladies & kings, searching for the Holy Grail [variously interpreted as either the plate or cup used by Jesus of Nazareth at the Last Supper]. That is one dimension of the story. Underlying it is a second dimension which is spiritual & mystical. Matarasso says: The Queste del Saint Graal despite its Arthurian setting is not a romance, it is a spiritual fable....Most medieval literature can be read on more than one level, that of the story proper, and that of the meaning it served to illustrate..." The book can be confusing for those who miss that point. On the other hand, many readers may find it inspiring, even moving at times.
Profile Image for Kevin Hogg.
257 reviews7 followers
February 5, 2018
Fun to read about the series of adventures that each knight encounters. A bit disappointing and frustrating at times, though. Were knights really that stupid? Some of the mysterious things they see clearly need interpretation, but others seem incredibly straightforward. Like, if they know that black and white are opposites, they should be able to figure that the good person wearing white and the bad person wearing black are on opposite sides. And it got old to hear over and over again that the most important (only?) factor to decide their worthiness is virginity--the first few dozen times, you might think, "Okay, the author's making a 'pure of body, pure of mind, pure of soul' connection," the next few dozen times, and the few dozen after that, feel excessive. With all that said, I enjoyed the journey, the suspense, and the mystery surrounding the quest. I was hoping for a different ending, but the last couple of pages brought it to a decent conclusion.
Profile Image for Stephen Gallup.
Author 1 book58 followers
February 18, 2021
The Quest of the Holy Grail is hard to read in that it requires modern readers to suspend the beliefs and values we may bring to it. I read it because it was prescribed for a graduate course in medieval romance.

My understanding is that it was probably written by a monk in an ascetic Cistercian environment, so we can hardly approach it as we would another kind of fiction. Indeed, it may be that the work was intended more as a kind of history rather than fiction—a history in which deeds in Britain mirrored sacred history. In a society that considered miracles as intellectually respectable, something like this would probably have been taken very seriously.

That exposure to it prepared me to appreciate the utterly scandalous treatment given the subject by Monty Python, when I saw their movie not long thereafter.
Profile Image for Aaron Crofut.
355 reviews34 followers
February 11, 2018
I liked the idea, I liked the moral, but I just was not impressed with the execution. The supernatural elements occur so frequently and the main characters act too nonchalantly to be very impressed with them. These events took me out of the story. There's also no real tension. At no point do the characters seem in any real danger of failing. There were a couple of exceptions, especially the dilemma of Bors versus his brother Lionel, but otherwise there are few moments when the outcome is really in doubt. Again, I like the story and believe it is an important tale, but frankly, Tolkien did it better by not being so on the nose with the theology and the miracles. Those things are far more beautiful when they are woven seamlessly into the story of life.
Profile Image for Marcos Augusto.
721 reviews4 followers
February 26, 2022
The Lancelot-Grail, also known as the Vulgate Cycle or the Pseudo-Map Cycle, is an early 13th-century French Arthurian literary cycle consisting of interconnected prose episodes of chivalric romance in Old French. The cycle of unknown authorship, presenting itself as a chronicle of actual events, retells the legend of King Arthur by focusing on the love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere as well as the quest for the Holy Grail, expanding on the works of Robert de Boron and Chrétien de Troyes and influencing the Prose Tristan. After its completion around 1230–1235, the Lancelot–Grail was soon followed by its major rewrite known as the Post-Vulgate Cycle. Together, the two cycles constituted a highly influential and most widespread form of Arthurian romance literature during their time and also contributed the most to the later English compilation Le Morte d'Arthur that formed the basis for the legend's modern canon.

Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal (The Quest for the Holy Grail), or just the Vulgate Queste, relates how the Grail Quest is undertaken by various knights including Percival and Bors, and achieved by Lancelot's son Galahad, who here replaces both Lancelot and Percival as the chosen hero. It is purported to be narrated by Bors, the witness of these events after the deaths of Galahad and Percival.
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