Saturday, April 13, 2013

Book Review: Perceval: The Story of the Grail

Title: Perceval: The Story of the Grail
Author: Chrentien de Troyes
Translator: Burton Raffel
Genre: Epic Poetry, French
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: N/A
Age Group: 6+ (though not all would appreciate it, as it is poetry)

Open the book and enter a strongly Catholic culture.
From the age when the French were enchanted by King Arthur (an English king, interestingly enough), comes this beautiful epic by the poet de Troyes. It is the first appearance of King Arthur and his knights in literature, focusing mainly on the adventures of Perceval and Sir Gawain. These two men struggle to live by the knightly code, encountering all sorts of adventures. The book is one long poem, has a short and cheerful style, and is not broken up by chapters. The only thing which breaks it up is the separate little adventures. There is fighting, ladies to be saved, conversion, revenge, swords and lances, and much more.
Unfortunately the author died before he could finish the work. Like, mid-sentence. It's amusing when you hear about it, but when you're reading and you get to that point it's very frustrating. Three days later it's amusing again. Don't say I didn't warn you :)

Word of Warning
What do we expect out of a culture of warriors? Note that these warriors are nothing like those of the pagan world, such as those in Homer's epics (Achilleus, Hektor, Odysseus, etc). These are Christian warriors. Sure, they fight, but they only do so when necessary (Sir Gawain is an excellent example of this). For the most part, battles are one-on-one and glossed over very quickly. Sometimes we are where a wound is, or that a man is dying, but this is nothing like Homer's epics.
Also, Dear Son (yes, that's a name) takes his mother's advice in the wrong way and the result is a rather awkward scene with a girl. The two are in a tent, he leans over her and kisses her many times, she is angry and resists. The whole thing has a feeling of horror and is also comical at the same time.
Ladies and knights refer to each other as lovers (when such is the case) but we only here the reference and never know anything beyond it.
Perceval sleeps next to a girl, holding her in his arms, but we are aware that nothing else happened. Though there is some room for doubt on the reader's part, one simply needs to take into consideration de Troyes' story of Lancelot and the descriptions there to know that really the only thing that happened is what was described. I myself have not read Lancelot: the Knight of the Cart but my professor has and told me this.
Overall this is a very clean book and most (if not all) references to sexual or violent topics are fleeting, the sexual ones even being easy to miss completely.

My Thoughts
Having gotten over my frustration with the end of this story, I can say I rather enjoyed it. Perhaps part of this is because it followed a detailed reading of The Odyssey (don't get me wrong. I like Homer a lot, but I can only take so much of him at one time) and the verse here was much lighter. The culture shown in Perceval is a great balance. We have Christian knights striving for the good, bad knights who are all clearly bad and not striving for the good, and fighting. Yes, fighting. What's better than a story of a knight fighting for a maiden who requested his help?
Perhaps my favorite part about the story is that it shows not all fighting is bad. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying fighting is good, but in certain circumstances it is necessary. Here, in Perceval, we see a nice balance of fighting and negotiating, and a strong understanding of when to fight and when not to.
It was also just a really fun read, full of laugh-out-loud moments, and exciting. Who doesn't love reading about King Arthur and his knights?


grandma jane said...

Thank you for that review--I especially liked your summary.

I for one think poetry is good for everyone to hear but especially for kids, because its fluid nature offers something artistically very different from today's technology driven conversations.

Maria Gianna said...

Thank you! I'm glad you liked it.
I didn't grow up with a whole lot of poetry myself, but I've learned to love the sense of meter and organization I've found in it while studying. I agree that this type of thing is still necessary even with all our technology.
I still prefer the paper book over the ebook any day :)