The Grail Legend in Modern Literature

The Grail Legend in Modern Literature

John B. Marino
Volume: 59
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 188
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81xc5
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  • Book Info
    The Grail Legend in Modern Literature
    Book Description:

    This study shows how modern (including postmodern) adaptations of the Grail legend correspond to trends in the scholarly community and how the legend has been appropriated by competing world-views. There are three parallel trends in Grail scholarship and modern adaptations of the legend: controversy over Christian or pagan origins, secularization by way of humanism, and esoteric mysticism. These three trends reflect movements in popular culture. Relativism and multiculturalism influence Christian--pagan cultural conflict in the adaptations. Mythographers maintain the legend's appeal in a humanist culture by considering the Grail metaphor rather than material actuality; modern adaptations then transform the Grail from a particularly Christian symbol to one with universal application in an increasingly secular society. Modern esoteric spiritualities allow the Grail actuality with flexible meaning. This study, then, demonstrates how the Grail legend is transformed and adapted from medieval to modern cultures and continues to evolve today. JOHN B. MARINO is adjunct instructor, Maryville University and Saint Louis University.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-270-2
    Subjects: Linguistics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    “The Grail story is a good story. Granted. But it’s a dangerous story. It could get out of hand,” says the editor of a newspaper in Naomi Mitchison’s To the Chapel Perilous (56). The Holy Grail legend has indeed gotten out of hand if one adds up the number both of medieval Grail texts and of adaptations written in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The same can be said of the Arthurian material as a whole, which is continually being rewritten at an incredible rate. The legend shows no signs of being exhausted, as new Grail texts are always being...

  5. 1 The Medieval Texts
    (pp. 15-27)

    The earliest extant Grail text is Chrétien de Troyes’s unfinished late-twelfth-century Old French verse Perceval or Le Conte du Graal. Charles Potvin published the first modern edition of the text from 1866 to 1871 in a six-volume edition, which also contains the works of Chrétien’s continuators, the Elucidation and the Perlesvaus. Perceval was translated into English by Robert W. Linker in 1952.¹ Previously, William Wells Newell had published a close translation in his King Arthur and the table round: tales chiefly after the Old French of Crestien of Troyes, with an account of Arthurian romance, and notes (1897).²

    The early...

  6. 2 Christian vs. Pagan: Origins and Culture Wars
    (pp. 28-81)

    The nineteenth century saw a revival of interest in the Arthurian legend, and an inquiry into the origin of the legend. Why at this time? The nineteenth century was an age of science, and the Arthurian world belongs to a medieval past which put faith in an untestable spiritual realm. Strange beasts and sorcerers walk the landscape of medieval texts. Superstitious rituals occupy lives. What place can such a world have in an era of scientific enlightenment? One reason for the revival is that at times like this, paradoxically, preoccupations with the spiritual realm surface. The latter part of the...

  7. 3 Humanism and the Grail Legend: From Skepticism to Metaphor
    (pp. 82-116)

    Aside from its transformation by way of the origin controversy, the Grail has also undergone a process of secularization in British and American fiction. In various ways, the legend has been removed from its position of transcendent otherworldliness to a position more applicable to worldly experience. This transformation is a consequence of the increasing influence of secular humanism throughout the twentieth century and growing skepticism in regard to the sacred.¹ The scientific developments of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries promoted a faith primarily in humanity rather than the divine.² According to secular humanism, which developed alongside scientific advancements, we, and...

  8. 4 Esoteric Mysticism: Actualization of a Grail Redefined
    (pp. 117-148)

    The Grail quest has been through a process of secularization, from skeptical reaction against its supernaturalism to acceptance of its use as metaphor, but it has also been through a process of re-spiritualization in Grail scholarship and fiction that come out of the Aquarian and New Age movements. Even though twentieth-century skepticism has transformed the Grail from a material and supernatural Christian or Celtic pagan object to a metaphor, some twentieth-century scholars and writers of fiction maintain that the Grail actually exists. To them it is a supernatural reality and not just a metaphor. Yet many assertions of a real...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 149-150)

    The New Age movement tries to do everything with the Grail. It is both a Christian and pagan legend, more pagan than Christian, since the origin theories have revealed its prototypes in a Celtic antiquity and Mystery cults that synthesized pagan and Christian traditions. This appeals to a New Age kind of pluralism that strives for inclusiveness in the present by revival of an imagined Golden Age from the remote past. The legend is open to personal interpretation in the manner of a universal metaphor now that skepticism has made an exclusively Christian Grail unacceptable. The focus of the New...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 151-166)
  11. Index
    (pp. 167-176)
  12. Arthurian Studies
    (pp. 177-184)