The Grail Theme in Twentieth-Century Literature

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Introduction

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

The Grail Theme in Twentieth-Century Literature

The following entry presents criticism on the Grail theme in twentieth-century literature.

The legend of the Grail and the quest to locate it has been one of the most consistent motifs throughout Western literature. One of the earliest recorded instances of the legend itself was in Chrétien de Troyes's Perceval ou Le conte du Graal (c. 1190), which depicted the Grail as a chalice or vessel that was present during the Last Supper and later used to collect Jesus Christ's blood after his crucifixion. Though there are numerous interpretations and theories regarding the origin of the myth and the vessel, in its most basic form, the story of the Grail revolves around a quest for an object that sustains life. In most versions of the legend, the Grail is extremely difficult to find—hidden in a desolate castle, surrounded by barren land, and guarded by an ailing owner. The myth holds that the power of the Grail can only be restored if the questing knight is able to find the castle and ask the right question of its owner. Failure at any time during this journey implies a failure of the quest, which must then begin anew. The knight who succeeds in his quest becomes the new guardian of the castle and the Grail, replacing the previous caretaker, often referred to as the Fisher King. Although the legend is fundamentally connected to Christian beliefs and mythology, literary interpretations of the story have treated the Grail as both a secular and religious symbol. The most common association of the Grail quest in literature is with Arthurian legends, but scholars acknowledge that the concept of the Grail existed in Western mythology long before the tales of King Arthur and his Round Table were created.

Twentieth-century authors, in particular, have utilized the Grail legend in both realistic and fantasy fiction , notably in stories that revolve around time travel or the struggle between good and evil. One variation on the Grail myth—largely introduced by twentieth-century authors—has been the focus on characters that attempt to steal the Grail for their own purposes. Such selfish motivations are held in stark contrast to the traditional role of the Grail in...

(The entire section is 721 words.)