August 14, 2014

Perceval by Chrétien de Troyes (Review)

Title: Perceval, the Story of the Grail
Author: Chrétien de Troyes
First published Written: 1181
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

There, I've finished all of Chrétien de Troyes! *celebrates* Although I must confess I abandoned Perceval in the middle of the book, that doesn't alter the previous statement :) Let me explain. Chrétien was not very good at wrapping up his writing and actually finishing books. So out of his five surviving works he has finished only three. Lancelot was taken up by some unknown writer, and he did a fairly good job of preserving Chrétien's style and bringing the story to a glorious end. Perceval was not so lucky. Or you can say it WAS luckier, four times more so, as it got 4(!) continuations by different authors. I dropped it in the middle of the second continuation, and I think it was a reasonable and time-saving thing to do. You see, in the middle of Chrétien's own writing, he just drops Perceval and switches to Gawain, who is great of course, but has near to no relation to the title story. The first continuation doesn't return to Gawain, but wraps up Gawain's adventures and switches to yet another knight nobody has ever heard of. All this in 9500 lines! My patience was already quite drained when I finished this continuation. Second continuation was better as it switches back to Perceval, but instead of wrapping up the story, it starts several new adventures, which I was too lazy to keep track of. So without seeing any sign of the Grail on the horizon, I've decided to abandon the book.

All this said, I think the beginning of the story is really great. It's as if Chrétien planned the beginning well and even maybe edited it (one may hope), but then just continued to write what came to his head without any structure in mind. Perceval's story begins in his teens, when he learns about knighthood (some comical moments here) and leaves his home for Arthur's court (now this is really heartbreaking. Poor mom!). He's totally uneducated and brutal, and offenses everybody as he proceeds with his adventures. He learns fast though, and is soon well acquainted with the ways of knights. But he still has to seek spiritual education to be worthy of the Grail. And that's what we don't see, as Gawain takes the stage for what seems like forever -_-

The symbolism in the story is very strong, and it's maybe the only Chrétien's romance which feels like literature, not just a retelling of a series of adventures, as it has some ideas and purpose. The notion of the Grail is still quite rudimentary. In the story the Grail is just a big plate for serving at meals, and the bleeding lance is the key artifact. It's interesting that to get information about the lance and the Grail all you need to do is just ask about them when you see them. But somehow most knights are hesitant to do so, maybe not to sound dumb or impolite. I think it's great that Chrétien underlined the importance of being inquisitive in order to succeed in one's education and personal growth.

Gosh, I'm so glad I've finished Chrétien de Troyes! It was really interesting to see the sources of some of the most famous Arthurian stories, but I'm longing for something easier to read now :)

In my book:
Too long and unstructured to be good, except for the beginning.


  1. funny you call him Troyes, his name is Chrétien, at least that's how we remember him, and the DE just mean from, the city of Troyes. Just like Robert from Dallas for instance. Troyes still exists today, with that same spelling, it's in the Champagne region, though not as lively as it was in the Middle Ages. Perceval fascinated me when I was younger, and it's very interesting to see how others have seen him, for instance Wagner, in his Parsifal - a 5 hour opera, but worth enery minute

    1. Haha, funny, I didn't think about it, although somewhere deep inside I know there is a city Troyes :) I should have figured out it wasn't a surname :) Thanks for correcting :)

      Oh, I'll certainly check out Wagner's Parsifal! I love his Nibelungs, so I think I'll enjoy Parsifal too!


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