|Title: Parsifal's Page|
Author: Gerald Morris
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Synopsis: (from the publisher) Piers (or Pierre, as he wants to be called) is desperate to become a page to escape the dirty, tedious labor of his father;s black-smith shop. So when a knight shows up and says he's on "the quest," Piers begs to go along. Surprisingly his father lets him, and soon he is off on a series of adventures he never dreamed possible. However, Piers's knight quickly runs into some difficulties and is slain by an odd character named Parsifal, who is on his own quest to become a knight. Piers has no other choice but to throw his lot in with Parsifal.
Parsifal is unlike anyone Piers has ever met and doesn't behave "knightly" at all, but slowly Piers begins to realize that being a knight has nothing to do with shining armor and winning jousts. As their journey continues, Piers and Parsifal are drawn into the Quest for the elusive Holy Grail. They find that to achieve this quest they must learn more than knighthood: they most learn about themselves.
No knight's story has been told more often than Parsifal's, but no one else has ever told his story quite like Gerald Morris does in his fourth Arthurian novel, another tour de force of humor, action, magic and, as always, true love.
Despite my feelings, my jaw actually dropped when I saw the new cover for Parsifal's Page:
Damn that's a beautiful cover. And since this is actually a fairly downer book compared to the others, it captures the tone of this story in a way that the original cover really didn't.
Warning for Spoilers
The Last time I read this Book
So this is the point where being a giant fan of Arthurian Legends can become something of a problem. When you read a lot of books and you work on your own Arthurian retelling, you start to develop your own distinct vision of what that character should be. And sometimes that vision meshes well with how other authors view the character. And other times not so much. I have a very specific (and unorthodox) view of Percival's character and the naive child whose rudeness only comes from his ignorance is not it. Both times I've read this book I've found myself unable to fall into it as fully as I have the previous Morris books, and while there are real narrative issues that lead to this problem, the fact that this is not my Percy compounds the problem even further. Some characters, if they're far off from your vision of them, it's okay and you can move past it. For some reason, with Percival, I can't.
To be fair, to me, this book is something of a hot mess. But then, to be fair to Morris, the Percival Grail Myth is a hot mess. The original version written by Chretien de Troyes is understood to be unfinished-- likely because he died before he could complete it. After Percival fails to ask the Fisher King the question and restore the land, the story shifts to Gawain. Mid-story, de Troyes discards his protagonist and shifts to another and it is with Gawain that the story leaves off. Several writers wrote direct continuations of the tale while several other writers have written their own retelling of the story (Morris draws heavily from Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival). But there is a central problem with this story. It's not just that de Troyes never finished it, it's that where he left off Percival as the protagonist had been abandoned and replaced by someone way more awesome (I've actually wondered if de Troyes never intended to return to Percival in his story and the moral was that if you don't speak up and make a name for yourself, you fade into obscurity).
Thus we're left with something of a conundrum in retelling this story. Parsifal cannot be the viewpoint character because he disappears in the middle and is replaced by Gawain. So, as with The Squire's Tale and The Squire, His Knight and His Lady, Morris has created the original character Piers to be our guide. Piers is an eleven year old boy who wants to serve a knight. He's too young to be a squire, so we have Parsifal's Page Piers (say that three times fast). Piers is essentially Terence 2.0, but Terence is way more awesome and Morris knows it. He doesn't even try to have Piers live up to Terence. Instead he does something very brave, very innovative and something that does not work at all. He gives Piers the same characteristics of the ninny knights he's spent three books mocking. Not that Piers is as self absorbed as say Gareth or Griflet, he just thinks he wants to be and has a long road ahead of him to learn that this is perhaps a bad idea. Unfortunately, Piers' early narration is far too stiff to be enjoyable. And he's big on rules so he and Parsifal don't spend much time talking. So all you're left with in the first half of the book are pages and pages of Piers' stiff and not really that enjoyable narration instead of the fun and hilarious banter that the readers have come to look forward to in these books.
So thank god Gawain takes over as protagonist in the middle of the book, or else this story would be something of a lost cause.
We start with
Unfortunately, around the same time Ither arrived in Arthur's camp, Parsifal had just wandered in from the fairy realm. You'll remember Parsifal from The Squire, His Knight and His Lady where he and Gawain wrestled, Gawain said he would help Parsifal become a knight and then Parsifal ran off to tell his mother he was leaving. This was of course some time ago based on what happened in the last book, but when you factor in time and the Otherworld, it's not that surprising that Parsifal is just showing up now. After the insult to Guinevere, while Arthur and Kai are arguing, Parsifal goes to find Ither, kills him and takes his armor, sword and horse. He also ends up stuck with Piers.
From there, Parsifal just kinda wanders around aimlessly. He makes some of the classic Parsifal mistakes that come with not knowing how the world works. Eventually he comes upon Sir Gurnemains who teaches him manners. And then he meets
I wish. We're only 76 pages in. Although in married bliss, Parsifal soon begins to feel that this was all too easy and that there's more he needs to do. He leaves his wife and begins questing again. He soon crosses into the Otherworld, finds a castle and goes through the who Grail Procession that's so well known. Because of his training with Sir Gurnemains, Parsifal doesn't ask any questions that night during the banquet. The next morning, Parsifal and Piers wake to find the castle empty. The leave, trying to find someone, and the gates slam shut behind them. A servant mocks them for failing to ask the question and failing this quest. The castle then disappears, leaving Parsifal distraught. He parts ways with Piers, who finds his way back to King Arthur and, more importantly, Gawain.
This is where the book swings back into familiar and happy territory because: Gawain and Terence. Gawain feels bad that Parsifal ended up in this mess because Gawain wasn't there to greet him when he arrived at Arthur's court. He and Terence, with Piers in tow, decide (well, Gawain decides, Terence grumbles) to go find Parsifal so he can be knighted. They go through some fabulously awesome and hilarious quests, culminating with Piers risking his life to procure a magic garland (and losing his foppish hat) that will help the owner find whatever they are looking for, so long as it's given as a gift.
Piers is then reunited with Parsifal (who is knighted) and they continue on their journey to find the castle. Piers tries to give Parsifal the garland, but Parsifal, now a broken man, refuses to take it. Eventually Piers forces it on him and it leads them back to the castle. Parsifal asks the king the question and the land is restored. Rather than stay, Parsifal decides to go back to his wife. Piers reunites with his parents, inviting them to live at Parsifal's castle so he can continue serving his lord and learn the smith's trade. And everyone lives happily ever after. For real this time.
(And we're back to the original character roll. I don't have anything more to say about Piers beyond reiterating that I just don't understand the choice to use this character. Why use this original character and this story line when Piers could easily replaced with say Percival's sister Dindrane? Why, after the breath of fresh air that was Lynette's narration in the last book, did we go back to a story largely dominated by dudes? It's disappointing.
But!!! I did want to
Parsifal is the classic version of the character. A boy who has been raised alone in the wilderness by his mother and is largely ignorant of the world. The problem that I have with this character is that we never see his growth. He is largely defers to Piers for the first half of the book and when we meet him again after The Adventures of Gawain, he's broken, sad, and much more commanding. And we never see this shift. It's easy enough to see why it happened, but it would have been nice to see how he got there (even if it would have been a total downer and hanging with Gawain was way more fun). At the same time, Parsifal's complete 180 to joyfulness after completing his quest just doesn't quite ring true. It would have been nice to see longer repercussions of such a traumatic event (even though, again, it would have been a total downer-- but right now the happily ever after is just too neat and too quick to really enjoy).
Gawain is the best! He and Terence seriously breathe much needed life into this story the moment they appear. Being Gawain, he promptly finds himself adjudicating a matter of the heart (two young people want to get married, but the girl wants the boy to prove himself but the father doesn't want the boy to get hurt, but then the younger sister gets Gawain to fight the boy on her behalf and then the father wants the girl to marry Gawain and it's just hilarious in it's familiarity and ridiculous and made even better when you realize it happened in Parzival). And then there's this hilarious quest of people trying to steal Gawain's ill-behaved horse and it just doesn't go well for anyone, including Gawain. And then they cross into the Otherworld and go through a series of awesome tests in order to rescue a castle of maidens. Now, this is from the original Grail Quest. As awesome as this whole scene was with Gawain dealing with a murderous bed, stones, arrows and a lion and then how it lead Piers to the garland... I can't help feeling that this is a giant missed opportunity to foreshadow Morgause's return (oh please, you all knew she was coming back). Because in the original story, Gawain finds his mother and his sister in this castle. Now, I'm not saying Gawain should have actually found his mother in this castle. But maybe there could have been evidence that she was the one who cast the spell on it to turn all the inhabitants invisible and create the murderous bed instead of this nameless wizard we never meet. Missed opportunity is all I'm saying.
Conduiramour (Blanchefleur) is amazing and I am sad that we did not get more of her. In the original legend she was the niece of the knight who trains Percival in manners (Gornemant originally, Gurnemains here where they are not related). Parsifal rescues her from a recreant knight who as been starving her land for months and the two of the immediately marry. It probably would have done Parsifal some good to spend more time with her in her castle than striking out right away. Connie is no-nonsense and would have quickly undone most of Gurnemains' training, thus saving Parsifal a lot of grief.
As with every story, the Fisher King (here called Anfortas) is the wounded king of the vanishing castle. In Wolfram's Parzival (which Morris admits to drawing heavily from in this), Anfortas is wounded due to neglecting his duties as Grail King and jousting for love of a woman. Here, Anfortas meets his evil universe double and is wounded fighting him. The Enchanter Ganscotter creates the Grail castle and gives Anfortas the Grail as a way to sustain him (as opposed to the original story where he already had the grail and the castle). Anfortas' family members tried to find a way to heal him and inadvertently ended up creating their chosen one in Parsifal. As a nice bookend, Parsifal is challenged by his own evil universe double at the end of the book and refuses-- throwing all his armor and weapons away until the evil double is forced to retreat.
Oh, poor abused Kai. In this book he has met his match in the wonderfully feisty Connoire (I seriously need a book where all of Gerald Morris' awesome ladies team up to save the day). Poor Kai is in love with her, but as with all of Morris' great romances, it is fraught with bickering. Unlike his romances, these two fall in the the slap slap kiss romantic trope (they don't get to the kissing until months later). Parsifal sees them hitting each other and every knight he defeats, he sends to pay respects to 'the lady Sir Kai hit'. This puts Kai into the most sour mood ever. However, upon learning that Parsifal and Connoire don't love each other and Parsifal wasn't sending the knights as a romantic gesture, Kai states that he's never going to change, but he wants Connoire to marry him. Connoire says that he's sure as hell going to change and she's delighted to be his wife. Arthur wonders if he's just witnessed a challenge or a marriage proposal and everyone goes happily along their way.
Nimue has her largest role to date in this story. First she sends her daughter off to help Piers, then she shows up at the Castle of Maidens to assist Gawain and Piers heal after they have been thoroughly trounced by a bed. She then appears again after Parsifal has healed Anfortas and escorts them back to the mortal realm. She is wise and king and lovely and I so enjoy Nimue. I wish she showed up more often.
Lancelot is still living in his hermitage in the woods. Arthur is still the best king ever and Guinevere is showing why she is Arthur's one and only by standing up to Uther's ass of a nephew. Gurnemains is the knight who taught Parsifal manners in the legend, and that's what he does in this book. He has the added bonus of having taught Griflet in this book, so nobody takes him seriously.
You may remember Trevisant as the kind old hermit from the first book who raised Terence and sees time backwards. To which I say 'shit, son', because that means that even back writing the first book, Morris knew how this Grail quest thing was going to go (until I started doing my research on Parzival to write this review, I had no idea there was anything in the first book that carried into future narratives aside from the characters). Trevisant is the brother of Anfortas. They are both uncles to Parsifal.. Trevisant, his sister Herzeloyde and Trebuchet the master smith from the Otherworld (Piers' father and a character lifted directly from Parzival) do their best to find the chosen one to save Anfortas. And then they sorta end up creating him. Herzeloyde gives birth to Parsifal, Trevisant teaches him about Anfortas and the grail and Trebuchet created the magic sword Parsifal uses on his journey. At the end of the book, both Herzeloyde and Trevisant have passed away. Trebuchet and his wife agree to live in Parsifal's kingdom with Piers.
Most of the quests from this story are also lifted directly from the Parzival/Percival stories. You have Duke Orilus whose wife is practically assaulted by Parsifal when he's misunderstanding his mother's advice. Orilus goes on to treat his wife like shit, believing her to be unfaithful. Parsifal stumbles upon them both later. He feels awful for putting the wife through such horrors and, after defeating the husband, sends them both to Connorie. Obie and Obilot are the sisters from Gawain's convoluted romantic intervention and the story hear seems pretty close to the tale Wolfram told except with Morris' tongue-in-cheek humor. You also have Antigone, a lady who becomes infatuated with Sir Gawain during his visit, so her brother attacked him. In Morris' story, Antigone tries to seduce Gawain, but they're interrupted by her brother trying to kill Gawain, believing him to have murdered their father who died in his sleep. And finally, Sir Ither, originally one of Arthur's knights, he was re-imagined as the Red Knight in Parzival, which Morris keeps here.
The stuff with Gawain is definitely deserving of 5 stars. But the stuff with Parsifal I'm inclined to only give three. Compromise, then, at 4 Stars.