|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.
After the high of Savage Damsel, for me it would be difficult for the next book in the series to top or meet my expectations. This may account for the somewhat ambiguous way I feel about Parsifal’s Page. For me, it has its ups and downs. There are parts I like a lot, and parts I’m kind of “meh” on; there’s nothing that I outright dislike about it but it doesn't sparkle for me the way Squire, Knight, Lady and Savage Damsel do.
I believe Morris is mishmashing several different versions of the Parsifal/Perceval legend here, as well as adding some more side adventures from Malory. Morris has returned to telling the story from an original character’s perspective, in this case a character younger than any we've yet encountered in his Arthurian universe. Piers/Pierre (he sorts this out over the course of the story) is eleven years old when the book begins, and ends up almost by accident a page to untried warrior Parsifal. We briefly met Parsifal in The Squire, His Knight and His Lady, and now it’s time for his famous Grail Quest tale to be told. There will be another one when we get to Galahad later in the series but this story belongs to Parsifal.
This book is divided unofficially into two parts. Part one begins with Piers (he wants to be called Pierre, so for this section I’ll humor him, which Morris does not), a boy living with his noble mother and blacksmith father who dreams of adventure like in his mother’s stories of life at court. Yes, cue the Disney music swell and the “I want adventure in the great, wide somewhere…” because that’s pretty much the mood you get. Pierre just knows he wants more than being a lowly blacksmith like his dad. He wants to get out and go on adventures. He has no idea what “adventure” entails, other than it’s grand and exciting and “better” than his current life.
I actually find Pierre kind of annoying in this section. Possibly because his attitude about people comes too close to that of the utterly reprehensible Lyonesse from Savage Damsel for my taste. He not only is deceived by physical appearances as Lynet was, but he’s deceived by appearance of status, and he’s slow to amend his judgments even when he comes to like the people in question. So despite the fact that the first knight he serves is an idiot and an awful person who tries to overthrow Arthur singlehandedly—about the only thing he has to recommend him is he’s a distant relation of Arthur—Pierre regrets coming to serve the much nicer, if naïve, Parsifal, because he sees Parsifal as an ignorant nobody. Unlike Lynet, who admits she made a mistake in judgment when she sees Gareth fight, Pierre spends months with two men who train Parsifal: Sir Guirnemains, who trains Parsifal in manners, and Jean le Forestier (aka Lancelot), and does not figure out which of their tutelage is worth more. He persists in thinking Sir Guirnemains is the superior instructor when it’s obvious Jean!Lance really, really knows what he’s doing with weapons. I get that Pierre has no way of knowing the guy is freaking Lancelot, but still…which one of them actually taught Parsifal how to use a sword? I mean, what eleven-year-old medieval boy, when confronted by the choice of which is more important to being a knight between dancing and swordplay, picks dancing? It shows how little Pierre knows about what the job of a knight is, and how completely taken in he is by appearances. Some of the advice Pierre gives Parsifal, such as how to treat a lady, is good enough, but some of it, like discouraging him from asking questions, turns out is not so great.
This book is really where you start to notice how intertwined all the previous stories are, a trend that will continue through the rest of the series. Kind of “where are they now?” or “whatever happened to…” tidbits. For example: Parsifal becomes the Red Knight because he acquires the armor of the slain Knight of the Red Lands from the previous book.
So once Parsifal has been trained, it’s time for him to take on his first real adventure. He almost effortlessly rescues and marries the incomparable Queen Conduiramour (Connie for short), much to the chagrin of Pierre because none of this matches with his mother’s stories of great knightly deeds. It was “too easy” and therefore “boring” for Parsifal’s poor, suffering page. Never mind that he gets to serve a King and Queen instead of a lowly nobody now.
Luckily for Pierre, for once Parsifal agrees with him. He sets out again, ostensibly to bring his mother to live with him and Connie but really he’s looking for adventure. It’s at this point the Grail Quest appears. Parsifal and Pierre come across a strange castle where all sorts of inexplicable things happen as per the original legend. Parsifal remembers Pierre’s teachings and asks no questions, though both he and Pierre are bursting with curiosity. Turns out this was a test, and all he had to do was ask a question and he would have passed. By staying silent, he failed. He and Pierre are kicked to the curb, and once he realizes his failure, he sends a guilt-ridden Pierre away.
Thus begins part two of the book. Piers (note the name change—the difference between part one Pierre and part two Piers is pretty stark) teams up with Gawain and Terence to look for Parsifal so they can bring him back to Arthur’s court to be knighted and so Piers can apologize to Parsifal for steering him wrong. Piers is amazed by the camaraderie between this unusual pair and wonders if he was also wrong in the distant way he treated Parsifal when all Parsifal wanted was a friend. The trio learns some background on what went on in the Grail Castle and the history of the perpetually wounded Fisher King who rules it. Turns out Parsifal is the son of the King’s sister, while Terence was raised by the King’s brother who, demoralized by looking for the King’s cure, became a hermit. The third member of the group who originally set out to cure the King, the armorer Trebuchet, is still missing. Terence, finding his foster father is near death, stays behind to care for him in his last days. Gawain and Piers travel on together alone.
Gawain and Piers have some fun adventures together, during which Piers learns what it really means to be a knight. He also slowly comes to realize there might have been more to his supposedly humble blacksmith father than he ever thought, and that more of his teachings rubbed off on Piers than he knew. The two end up in the Other World, where Piers acquires a magical garland that could help Parsifal find the Grail Castle again. They return to the World of Men without having found Parsifal.
Parsifal, in all his wanderings, finds them. Now broken and bitter and longing only to return to Connie, he reluctantly allows Piers to join him again. They wander for some time until Piers tries to get Parsifal to use the garland. Parsifal refuses, but the garland works anyway and leads them back to the Grail Castle where Parsifal finally gets to ask The Question and heal his uncle. He refuses kingship of the Grail Castle in order to go home to Connie. His last quest, with Connie beside him this time, is to inform his mother, Terence’s foster father, and Trebuchet that their King has been healed. However, they find the first two have already died. The group, which now includes Parsifal, Connie, Terence, Nimue and Ariel (Nimue’s chatty original-Morris-character daughter) takes Piers back to his parents. When they arrive, Piers confirms his suspicions that his father is in fact Trebuchet himself. Like Parsifal, Trebuchet has settled down with a mortal woman he loves and does not want to return to the Other World without her. So he, Piers and his wife move to Parsifal’s castle to serve Parsifal and Connie. Piers, now technically old enough to be a squire (he began the story at eleven and ends it at about fourteen; having apparently gone through puberty he is unrecognizable even to his parents), decides he would rather his father teach him to be a smith, a life he’s realized is just as honorable as being a knight.
Parsifal: The legendary character of Percival is often referred to “The Perfect Fool”. This doesn't mean that he’s slow-witted, but that he is so unworldly that he asks questions and does things he has no idea he shouldn't do. It’s not always a bad thing, but it can be in some circumstances. This is how Parsifal was in Squire, Knight, Lady and thus he is for most of the beginning of the book. Pierre finds his propensity to do or say whatever comes to mind exasperating and constantly tries to correct him. Parsifal willingly learns his lessons and becomes more refined and dignified because he believes Pierre’s lectures that this is how a knight should behave. However, he finds he’s learned the lessons too well when they reach the Grail Castle and there are times when one should ask questions. He is absent for most of part two while Piers tries desperately to find him and make up for the mistake that forever shattered the cheerful, open man Parsifal once was. Even at the end of the book the cheerful Parsifal who greeted everyone he met with a smile has not returned, a thought-provoking but quiet symbol of lost innocence.
Conduiramour: Parsifal’s long-suffering wife, she is a young queen who is wise beyond her years and beloved by all her people. She is not really a woman of action like Eileen or Lynet, but she is really likable with a quiet sense of humor. I wish she were in this more because I really find her character intriguing and she gets some pithy lines.
Gawain: Piers’s “knight master” in part two, it’s fun to spend more time with him after his almost total absence from Savage Damsel. He and Terence are still amusing to watch in their brotherly bickering. Piers comes to care for him in a student-mentor kind of way, though Piers is learning more about life and human interaction from Gawain than how to be a knight.
Kai: A major subplot of this book is Kai’s “romance” with a lady named Connoire. Most of this takes place off-screen and begins with a misunderstanding. The pair are attracted to each other but as usual for a Gerald Morris romance disguise it by bickering. Unfortunately, Kai, being a rougher article to begin with, isn't as good at witty banter as Gaheris or Terence and ends up getting slapped. He slaps Connoire in return, and this is witnessed by Parsifal. Thereafter Parsifal sends defeated enemies to honor Connoire, leading Connoire and Kai to believe Parsifal is in love with her. Both of them berate Parsifal when he reappears, much to Parsifal’s surprise as he had just been sending the knights to her as a convenient way to get rid of them. In a shocking twist, once Kai finds out Connoire isn't interested in Parsifal he proposes on the spot. She accepts but in Arthur’s words “I’m not sure whether I just witnessed a challenge or a proposal.” Because Kai is the seneschal he doesn't get to go on adventures so we never see a story really and truly focused on him (though he is a major character in at least one subsequent Tale and continues to be awesome), which is too bad because I’d like to see more of the pair of them.
Lancelot: Still in disguise as a woodcutter in the woods. He manages to semi-bring himself out of retirement to teach Parsifal sword fighting and jousting while Parsifal helps him with his woodcutting. The times when Parsifal complains that he’s never beaten “Jean” are funny because of course we the readers of the previous books know perfectly well it’s Lancelot. No one can beat him; even when it’s mentioned he and Gawain cross weapons in other books he always wins. And of course wild-looking “Jean” is another opportunity for Pierre to be all judgy when it’s obvious to the readers he’s missing something major.
Nimue: The Lady of the Lake returns after a two-book absence. She is still good and kind and beautiful, and appears at a castle in the Other World to take care of Piers and Gawain when one of their adventures leaves both of them injured. She now has a daughter with Merlin, although Merlin is only mentioned by his Welsh name so if you didn’t read Morris’s Author’s Note at the end you’d miss it. Ariel seems to be about the same age as Piers, though since time runs differently in the Other World it’s impossible to guess her real age. Her name might or might not be a reference to the Little Mermaid because like her mother she is a water sprite (no tail, she just swims really well). Piers has a crush on her but it’s hard to guess whether she feels only friendship or something more.
Arthur: Pierre would have respected him even if he’d been an awful person. Luckily for him Arthur is the best king ever so Piers still continues to respect him after he grows up a little.
There are lots of other Malory and Perceval-legend characters, but I’m not as familiar with them so I will not talk about how they compare to the original and other retellings. I’ll leave those to Story.
Guinevere, Dinadan, Gareth, Sagramore, Griflet and Bagdemagus all are mentioned or make cameo appearances.
There are things I like about this book and overall it’s a fun adventure, but the whole thing is kind of disjointed upon reading it again after some time away. The parts with Gawain and Kai are enjoyable but I am less invested in the new characters than I feel I should be after spending a whole book with them.