To say this has been a pet project “for some time” doesn’t really do it justice. The earliest drafts that I have specifically along these lines are over 10 years old. The oldest piece of it has young Percival waking from a dream and feeling that he has got to find Gawain, who he has only seen around occasionally and is very mysterious, and tell it to him for some unknown reason. When he describes the dream to Gawain, the older Knight can see th message from beyond in the dream though Percival cannot.I chose that structure because in the movie Excalibur, Percival is knighted when none of the knights are willing to face Gawain in battle to defend the Queen against Gawain’s allegations that she and Launcelot were lovers. Launcelot is nowhere to be found. Percival is Launcelot’s squire, and since no knight comes forward to defend the Queen, Percival stands in for Launcelot. Arthur knights the boy. And, just as he is about to face off with Gawain, Launcelot rides in and takes his place.Percival’s loyalty and bravery at that moment always stuck with me. So, I thought about a few things. If Launcelot was often away either with Guinevere or away to avoid her, who was around to really show Percival what it was to be a knight? I chose Gawain, who ironically, he would wind up facing eventually to become a knight himself.
It was only after I had started writing this that I came across John Matthews’ Sir Gawain: Knight of the Goddess. And, it was through Matthews that I began to really connect the dots and re-read older stories and find out how everything was connected. There have been 4 Grail Champions over time. Going from most recent to the oldest, they kind of line up this way:
Galahad is the Christian champion and definitely a reaction to the champions that I will discuss later. Also, by this time, the Grail is described as a cup from the Last Supper that caught drops of Christ’s blood as he hung from the cross. (Related: Joseph or Arimathea carried this artifact to England. Where that blood was spilled upon the ground, a thorn tree grew. This story was used to secure the English Church a strong place in the European heirarchy until their split from the Vatican under Henry VIII.) After Galahad achieves the Grail, he is taken bodily to heaven (not to be dirtied by contact with mere mortals). The Galahad stories focus around purity and pre-destiny. Those were commercials for the Church.
I often refer to Percival as the Knight of the Question. He is the most ordinary of the Grail Champions. he makes mistakes and he learns from them. Percival’s quest has many different versions. Some of the better known ones are in the German opera Parzival. As I have culled through the various versions, I have found a few really interesting characters. Chief among them would be Dindrane. The picture here shows Dindrane and Galahad. By this time, she is depicted as some sort of nun. Earlier versions depict her as more of a hedge witch. She is the only woman ON the quest as opposed to being incidental. and, if she did not sacrifice herself, the Grail would not have been won at all. Percival’s quest is a learning experience for everyone. He speaks to the concept that the pursuit of gnosis, not merely knowledge, is a virtue.
Gawain can be considered a sort of Demi-God. His father is human (King Lot) and his mother Morgause, or Morgana (if you go back far enough) is from Avalon, the realm of Faerey. Usually referred to as Arthur’s nephew, he took on a lot of Arthur’s older stories that I will discuss later. Now that Arthur had to be a king, he could no longer be his own hero, so his nephew became him. The nephew thing in itself is interesting. Some old stories have him as Modred’s twin brother. They are depicted as the extremes of good and evil. Gawain subsumed Arthur’s triumphs and Modred all of his misdeeds.
The oldest stories of the Grail, have the land of Albion in the dark of an endless winter. The people call to the goddess Cerridwen. She tells them that she can bring back the springtime, but only if one of them goes to the underworld to bring back the Cauldron of Renewal. A warrior Arthur (name meaning the Bear) leads a band of men into the underworld to do this deed. Some say that the historical Arthur, who united the Kingdoms of the West Country against the Saxons, took the name Arthur to invoke that myth.
Whew… I guess I do miss teaching this stuff. Thanks for reading.