Searching for the Grail


The King Arthur Trilogy by Rosemary Sutcliff

“And as he stood there, desperately wondering what to do next, for he was sure that he must open that door if he was to come to the thing he sought, a strain of music reached him from beyond the unyielding timbers.  It was music sweeter than any singing of this world, and braided into the shining cadences he seemed to catch the words, ‘Glory and praise and honour be thine, Father of Heaven.’  And then he thought that his heart must surely burst, for he knew the Grail was within the chamber beyond that door, and he was once again shut out.

He knelt down, close against the door timbers, and prayed with his head bowed into his cupped hands, ‘Dear God, my sins are heavy on me.  But if ever I did anything that pleased Your, of Your pity, do not bar me altogether from that which I have sought so long.’

He thought he heard a faint sound of something moving, and the music swelled louder in his ear.  And when he looked up from between his hands, he was dazzled as though he were looking into the sun.  The door stood wide, and the chamber beyond it blazed like a golden rose in the heart of the dark castle.  Light flooded from it, and a beauty that was more than the flowers and the  candles and the singing, that pierced him through and licked him round and drew him so that he stumbled to his feet and was half into the chamber when the voice spoke to him again.

‘Back, Sir Lancelot.  It is given to you to see, but not to enter in.’ …

The retelling of this tale by Rosemary Sutcliff came to me via a previous series I had read of hers, the Eagle of the Ninth being the first in that series, a wonderful historical drama covering the years just after the Romans withdrew from Britain.  I love her style of writing which is so full of metaphor, personification and simile.  It is poetry in a story, so I guess I would call her a bard.  We were recommended this via a booklist from the back of Michael O’Brien’s book “A Landscape with Dragons : The Battle for your child’s mind.”  I enjoy reading stories that are written for a younger audience, as my brain doesn’t hurt when I have no capacity at the end of the day for anything too deep.  While others may be pondering Augustines’ Confessions or one of JP2’s encyclicals for their nighttime literature, I am happy to ponder a few well-written pages from Rosemary Sutcliff.   Her Eagle of the Ninth is a fantastic read, and I found it a better pace than this one on King Arthur.  If you are looking for literature for your teenagers if they enjoy a good adventure, then I would suggest Eagle of the Ninth to start with.  The King Arthur trilogy had some good sections, but some of it seemed to move slowly, with the middle book “The Light Beyond the Forest”, (which focused much on mythological travels by knights seeking the Holy Grail,) being a difficult one to follow at times.  Having said that, it all ties together beautifully in the final book of this trilogy “The Road to Camlann” and it really takes the essence of a true myth to heart, namely, it is not just the story for its own sake, but seeks to bring the reader into deeper questions and a message which is timeless and always remains true in any age.


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