The Perceval Bildungsroman: The Evolution of the Spiritual Knight
I cannot remember the first time that I read the story of Perceval because it seems that I have always known him. However, I have only recently discovered that I have known him only in a very limited way. I had only been acquainted with him in select writings, and, therefore, I only knew certain facets of his character. Of course it follows that unless you read all there is to read about a character, you are not able to develop a full understanding of who he or she really is. In the area of Arthurian literature, it is no small task for readers to create composites of who the characters are. In each, separate story they reveal a side of themselves that is not present in any other work. Needless to say, the task of reading every bit of information about those characters is likewise difficult. Worse yet, even at the end you are not guaranteed a full understanding of the characters. Perceval is one such character. Because of his multi-faceted personality, Perceval represents no small challenge to the scholar who wishes understand his true nature. He is at once innocent and naive when he deals with knights in the Desolate Wood as well as competent and worldly when he defends the maiden Blanchefleur's castle. He is not the perfect knight, but because of his imperfection, he appeals more readily to the reader's imagination. Unlike Galahad, he is not preceded by religious omens, nor is he privileged, like Arthur, to draw out mysterious swords out from stones mystically set in the woods. Yet of all the heroes gathered about the Round Table, he is the everyman of Arthurian literature, the mysterious anti-hero who has Q captured the imaginations of both readers and scholars alike throughout the ages. To acquire a complete understanding of Perceval’s development as a truly spiritual hero, it is necessary to recognize the Celtic and Welsh traditions that ushered in his creation, Chretien de Troyes’ Conte del Graal that molded him into a credible character, and the later scholarly interpretations through which Perceval reaches his spiritual perfection. Each of these stages is crucial in the evolution of Perceval’s character. To ignore or overlook any one of them would rob us of a full appreciation of the Perceval myth and its centrality to the spiritual culture of medieval Europe, a culture which exhibits its first signs of disintegration with the advent of the Renaissance.