contributor.author: Kathryn M. Talarico

title.none: Terry and Durling, The Finding of the Grail (Kathryn M. Talarico)

identifier.other: baj9928.0110.008 01.10.08

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Kathryn M. Talarico, The College of Staten Island, talarico@scholar.chem.nyu.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Terry, Patricia and Nancy Vine Durling. The Finding of the Grail, retold from Old French Sources. Gainsville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2000. Pp. 104. 55.00. ISBN: 0-813-01788-2.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.10.08

Terry, Patricia and Nancy Vine Durling. The Finding of the Grail, retold from Old French Sources. Gainsville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2000. Pp. 104. 55.00. ISBN: 0-813-01788-2.

Reviewed by:

Kathryn M. Talarico
The College of Staten Island
talarico@scholar.chem.nyu.edu

It is always a pleasure to see that the enormous corpus of medieval texts dealing with the adventures of King Arthur and his knights is being brought to an ever-increasing English- speaking audience and that these stories extend beyond the more canonical texts of Chretien de Troyes. "The Finding of the Grail" by Patricia Terry and Nancy Vine Durling goes one step further in this endeavor. In this tale, Terry and Durling are less "translators" than they are "rewriters" and "completers" of the grail stories. It is Chretien de Troyes's "Story of the Grail" that provides the grounding for the present work, and the authors seek to go beyond Chretien's unfinished grail story by combining his romance with selected material from the lengthy thirteenth-century continuations, notably those of Gerbert de Montreuil and Manessier. Gerbert's version of the story is an incomplete one. Manessier's version is complete, but the authors change the spirit and tone of the story in order to enable them to rewrite their grail story along lines more consistent with the spirit of Chretien de Troyes. They claim that Manessier's "heavy-handed religious symbolism is incompatible with the delicate balance Chretien achieves between Christian beliefs and Celtic magic". (99)

Terry and Durling's retelling of these tales is justified by the fact that they see in the lengthy rewritings of the grail stories after Chretien de Troyes proof of the popularity of these tales and the desire to bring closure to Chretien's story. Chretien's "Story of the Grail" is one of the earliest grail stories and the authors state that in it "the Holy Grail appears for the first time". It is a quibble, perhaps, but it should be noted that in Chretien's text the grail is neither "holy" nor capitalized; it is simply "a grail".

The authors note further (and explain in more detail in the Afterword) that Chretien's tale tells of the adventures, not only of the "young and naive" Perceval, but of the "accomplished and worldly" Gawain as well. (98) In their discussion of Chretien's grail story, Terry and Durling remind us that thirteenth-century readers "were eager to know more about the exploits of these two knights and verse continuations of Chretien's romance soon began to appear". (3) These continuations cover over 60,000 lines in several manuscripts, present disparate approaches to the story and, in some instances, remain unfinished as well. Terry and Durling are correct to assert in their Afterword that these textual problems "make a complete translation both undesirable and impractical". (98) For the sake of brevity, our twenty-first- century authors, Terry and Durling, have made certain choices and have chosen to focus almost exclusively on Perceval as the grail winner.

Terry and Durling's grail story is very cleverly written and very readable; in all aspects it 'sounds medieval'. The episodes chosen are interesting enough to hook even the most recalcitrant novice readers and to convince them that medieval literature is neither deadly boring nor torture! There is a lively blending of Celtic mythology, magic and imagery, alongside Arthurian and Christian elements. It is a tribute to the authors that, were it not for the notes in the Afterword or the asterisks in the text that mark the 'bridge' sections written by them, it would be difficult to tell where the medieval authors leave off and where Terry and Durling begin.

Terry and Durling are accomplished translators. In this slim volume, however, they blend together the roles of 'translators' and 'rewriters' of the grail material and make it difficult to assess the contents and quality of the translation, which, in the final analysis, might not be wholly relevant to their project. The reader really cannot (and probably should not) try to use this text to 'get at' the thirteenth-century continuations. But in the blending of roles of translators and rewriters, there are some serious problems, at least for this reviewer. Readers are never quite sure of the intended audience of this work. The Introduction provides a very succinct summary of early Arthurian literature, the popularity of Chretien de Troyes' romances, and a brief discussion of his unfinished "Story of the Grail". There is little here that is not found in more detail in other translations available to novice undergraduates, and specialists or M.A. students would not find such a retelling useful. The authors state that their text is for "modern readers" who might not be familiar with the episodes presented. However, these readers might be intimidated by the scholarly apparatus (manuscript lists, notes, etc.). It is questionable just how useful such information is for the "general reader" who is the intended audience. In fact, the general reader would be able to read this text without any of the critical apparatus whatsoever. A case in point is the black and white illustrations. They are fully and scrupulously documented on pages vii-viii and are found throughout the text. However, they are intended to merely "illustrate" or "suggest" a particular scene mentioned in the narrative as an original medieval manuscript would have done. While it supposedly creates an "atmosphere" of authenticity, the sometimes poor quality of the images obfuscates their usefulness. It would have perhaps been helpful to have these illustrations identified in the text, with some sort of caption to aid in understanding just what one is looking at. And just as narrative lines are picked and chosen for inclusion in the present story, the illustrations themselves come from a variety of sources: some are from the actual manuscripts of the texts used for the story (e.g. BN ffr 1453 and 12577 for Chretien de Troyes' grail material; BN ffr 95, 110, 344, 24394 for other grail narratives) while others are from "unrelated manuscripts with scenes similar to those recounted in the grail stories". (vii)

Further, and more perplexing still, is that Terry and Durling state that their version "owes much to the example of Joseph Bedier, who, one hundred years ago, created from the various fragmentary Tristan texts a complete and moving story". (100- 101) The recent re-translation of Bedier's version of the Tristan tales (by Hilaire Belloc and Paul Rosenfeld), which Terry and Durling mention, contains no introductory material or notes, and is, not insignificantly, an inexpensive paperback. Terry and Durling's slim volume of 102 pages is a hefty $55. More importantly, however, is why Bedier should be taken as an example to follow in a retelling of medieval narratives. His text might be useful for the most uninitiated of readers (for instance, high school or junior high school students) who seek to get a cursory glance at the plot of a story. But even then, there are better and more reliable more 'medieval' translations available of the Tristan material (for example, the Penguin edition). Bedier's early twentieth-century methodological approach to manuscripts (i.e. taking the best extant manuscript and 'correcting' it) has not been followed by medieval scholars for quite some time. But the Bedier model is what is presented as their model for the complex tales that they seek to weave into a seamless whole.

With that in mind, the task Terry and Durling set before themselves is to follow the "spirit" of Chretien's original tale, picking, choosing, reordering, and rewriting selected episodes from the continuations. They seek to produce a unified tale, complete from beginning to end and continuing the "medieval tradition of retelling and expanding the tale". (3) It is thus essentially a Perceval tale that we have in this volume: Perceval's adventures and education; his finding of the grail; winning Blanchefleur, and finally the birth of their daughter. In the Afterword (97) readers can get a sense of which episodes are contained in the medieval texts and where Terry and Durling have translated, written "bridge" sections, rewritten entire episodes, or invented new material altogether.

If we cannot judge "The Finding of the Grail" on the basis of the translators' art and technique, we can say that this text could serve as a concrete example of the process of rewriting and it is that process, as it appears here, that permits me to find this text interesting. This text could be used profitably as a model, for instance, in a course on medieval literature where one of the writing assignments could be to rewrite a medieval romance or a fairytale such as "Jack and the Beanstalk". Students would demonstrate that they have understood the elements of the genre of romance. Overall, however, "The Finding of the Grail" remains rather limited in its usefulness and appeal, and with a price that puts it out of the reach of the very readers for whom it is intended.