THE HOLY GRAIL by Malcolm Godwin


A Legend of Our Time
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 An extensive treatment of the various legends of the Holy Grail that ultimately falls apart because of its pursuit of flimsy speculation. Godwin (Angels: An Endangered Species, not reviewed) explores one of the most intriguing and persistent myths of Western civilization. He begins by outlining in detail nine principal cycles of legend involving the Grail, tracing them through three separate strata of stories. Beginning with the earliest written account of the quest for the Grail, the 12th-century ``Le Conte del Graal'' by ChrÇtien de Troyes, the author convincingly shows that the origins of the Grail legend are in ancient Celtic oral tales in which the object of the quest was a magical vessel of plenty. This vessel evolved into the more familiar Grail of Arthurian romance, that holiest of Christian relics--the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper and which was used to catch his blood as it poured out on the cross. It was this object that was supposedly brought to England by Joseph of Arimathea and hidden at Glastonbury. The third branch of legend explored is what Godwin calls the ``chymical.'' Here he retells the mystical tale of rebirth and transformation, ``Parzifal'' by Wolfram von Eschenbach. Dating from about 1220, it became the basis of the famous Wagnerian opera. In the concluding section, Godwin explores the Grail's meaning as ``a myth for our time,'' connecting the quest for the vessel to Eastern philosophies such as the Tao (Godwin also is known as ``Yatri'' from his time spent on an Indian ashram). He explores, too, various archetypal images present in the various legends. The work will appeal to Grail enthusiasts more interested in conspiratorial and mystical elements than in serious scholarship. Lavishly illustrated, it will make a fine coffee-table book. (180 color and b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-670-85128-0
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1994