This novel, which retells the story of Percival, the Grail knight, and his quest to restore plenty to his desolate land, chronicles the efforts of Roy Hobbs to lead the New York Knights baseball team to the pennant.
At the beginning, Roy, nineteen, is on his way to Chicago for a tryout with the Cubs when he meets the mysterious Harriet Bird. When he can explain his purpose in life only in terms of self-interest, Harriet shoots him.
Fifteen years later, Roy attempts to comeback with the Knights and quickly establishes himself as the greatest slugger in baseball history--with the help of his magical bat, Wonderboy, suggestive of the tree of fertility, Percival’s lance, and Excalibur, King Arthur’s sword.
When he gives in to the temptations of the corrupt Memo Paris, however, Roy goes into a slump. He recovers through the influence of Iris Lemon, representative of fertility, life, and responsibility, but he ultimately rejects her and sells out to Memo’s gambler friends. He has one more chance to redeem himself.
The wasteland-Holy Grail legend is combined with baseball history and lore, including the 1949 shooting of Eddie Waitkus, the 1919 Black Sox scandal and the consequent disgrace of Shoeless Joe Jackson, Babe Ruth’s career, and “Casey at the Bat,” to depict the moral complexities of contemporary American life, the opportunities for heroism offered by America, and moral obligations placed on the hero.
The sufferings of the Christlike protagonists in Malamud’s novels are the ultimate tests of their humanity. Roy Hobbs fails as a hero because he does not recognize Iris’s goodness or his own selfishness. He fails to grow up morally, a growth necessary to revitalize a decadent society. He fails as a baseball hero, yet his suffering can make him succeed as a man.
(The entire section is 478 words.)