Grail Legends

in The Canterbury Papers


Because the novel The Canterbury Papers is loaded with mystery, readers and reviewers often overlook the soul of the novel (if a novel can be said to have a soul) which for this writer is the search for the Holy Grail.

Jesse Weston wrote From Ritual to Romance in 1920. This is the seminal work that T.S. Eliot used in writing his famous Wasteland. A forward to the book in 1993 says: "Of all the elements of the Arthurian legend, non has proved more entrancing than the quest for the Grail."

It is natural that the grail legend would infuse, in some way, any work written about the twelfth century. Although the legends wound around the stories of Arthur, an ancient king of the Britons (who may or may not have been an actual figure) living in the fifth century, they were written in the twelfth century, at the time of my story and at one of the courts connected to Eleanor of Aquitaine's daughter, Marie.

The grail search, in the Jungian perspective, is nothing more than a search for the true self. Those romantic stories, those fateful quests, that mysterious wounded Fisher King can be taken as representatives of our inner selves and the search for meaning in our lives.

In my story, the dearest thing in the life of Alais Capet was her child, which she was told died. With that announcement, something within Alais died also, or at least went to sleep. In the novel, which begins with the news twenty years later, that the child lives, Alais begins to wake up. And with that waking, undertakes her search and has her adventures.

She is a woman, not a man and certainly not a typical knight, and her quest is for flesh, not an ideal or a chalice that held the blood of Christ. But that does not make her search any less of a grail quest. She moves from place to place, and has many adventures. In the end, her search is fulfilled. More than discovery of her son, she discovers that she can feel again. And most important, she discovers that she can release all, even her quest. Another important figure of the twelfth century, Meister Eckhart, once said in a sermon, that to find God the person must release all desire, even the desire for God. This, then, is the result of the quest of Alais.

I didn't set out to write a Grail story. At one point, I realized that is what I had, and I added some pointed references to the story. But later I took them out. The story stands on its own. Only those who inhabit, in some way, those distant times, will find this parallel of interest.