"Godspeed," by Edmund Blair Leighton





Editor Edwin Wollert chats with author Dale Geraldson of “Dreamers of the Grail:”

Editor Edwin Wollert chats with author Dale Geraldson of “Dreamers of the Grail:”

Wollert: You say in your afterword, Dale, that after an initial explosion of Arthurian literature during the Middle Ages in Europe, that the early modern period kind of forgot these old legends until as late as the 19th century, but since then have never suffered much in popularity.  Other than the appeal of mythology generally, why are Arthur and material on the Grail so popular?

Geraldson: I think part of it is the spiritual component, Ed, really.  That ties in better with my background in philosophy, anyway: the Grail legend is about the solitary quest, which we all have to make, and it’s always been as much philosophical and spiritual as well as physical.

Wollert: The physical might be easier to account for, especially in a different medium like film: watch the hero or heroine slug it out against a villain or three.  And that can make for marvelous fiction writing, too.  But a book offers a chance to think more.

Geraldson: That’s actually the main reason I think folks are often disappointed when they see films of their favorite books.  I say see the movie first, then read for the background.  But yes, the Grail poses questions of ethics and meaning, and since it’s supposedly holy, whether Christian or Pagan or something else, the spiritual part has to be there, too.

Wollert: On the topic of heroines, actually, I wanted to discuss Galahad.  Without giving too much away, why focus on making one of the main protagonists female?

Geraldson: Rewriting the Quest for the Grail entailed taking much of the detail away from Arthur and the most famous characters already…

Wollert: I noticed Merlin, while referred to often, never seems to make much of an appearance.

Geraldson: Yeah, that’s part of it, although Merlin was too mysterious for my own comfort level, so to speak.  He seems one of those mythological archetypes who’s perhaps too remote.  At any rate, the idea for Galahad here in my version came from a couple of things.  One was a curious set of novels starting about twenty years or so ago, which postulated that Galahad, as having such a strong spirit, keeps getting reincarnated, since he’s convinced he failed on the original quest.  So he keeps coming back, trying to find his King as well as the Grail, and it was suggested by the authors that one or more of these incarnations might have been women.  Then I started doing more research into women in the Arthur legends generally, and eventually found some material about how the Europeans perceived their women, and it just fell into place.

Wollert: That was the “Forever King” series, wasn’t it?

Geraldson: Yes, by Molly Cochran and Warren Murphy, itself a very curious take on the Grail story.  And I’d recommend Jean Markale and his work on women in Celtic society to help understand that there’s never really been a whole lot, if anything, that men can do and women can’t.  He also did a fine piece on Arthur, too, for that matter.

Wollert: So a woman might chase the Grail?  “Go after the impossible,” may be how I remember you phrasing it at one point.

Geraldson: Sure.  Like I said, the quest is solitary.  The Grail isn’t really something to be kept, even if you could find it.  That’s something of a twist on this American notion of “pursuing” happiness… what will you do if you “find” it, anyway?  The non-European models are clearer on this sort of thing: happiness, or the Grail, if you like, finds you instead.

Wollert: When you’re ready.

Geraldson: Correct.  Even the Celts had an ancient adage: when the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear.  Or, in this case, the ability to succeed on the quest.

Wollert: How does one qualify success on something spiritual or philosophical, then?  Or the failure that you mentioned before?

Geraldson: That’s a separate issue, I think.  It’s like that old need to postulate what the Grail literally “is.”  I enjoyed the version Dan Brown did a few years ago, too, and knew of the sources for his novel, but in another sense, saying that the Grail is a woman and her descendants, or a nifty magical cup, or bowl, or rock, or state of mind, or whatever, also misses the point.  The quest for meaning, the personal life-long search, isn’t just why I got into philosophy.  It’s also subjective to the participant, which necessarily means that the Grail has to mean different things, even be different things, for different seekers.

Wollert: One wonders what your professors must have thought of this.

Geraldson: The good ones I think recognized that there were places they couldn’t take me.  I might finish a course about Platonic ethics, for instance, but I had to make some of my own interpretations.  Teachers are really guides.

Wollert: I like that image.  And some of those classic philosophical ingredients found their way into “Dreamers,” didn’t they?

Geraldson: Guilty as charged.  I couldn’t help it.  I was dealing with a hugely illiterate society, already fictionalized, and yet had Perceval studying ancient philosophy in one scene.  There’s another part in which a bunch of monk-scholars are in Camelot laboring intensely to preserve old texts.  And that tradition is certainly accurate, especially in the parts of Western Europe which entered a much darker post-Roman age than the Eastern portions.  Even if almost no one could read them, the few educated folks worked quite diligently to prevent all kinds of knowledge from vanishing.  Document preservation, even all of archaeology, has its own ethics.

Wollert: So what does Perceval learn from that, prior to running about with Galahad?

Geraldson: It grounds him, helps him articulate his beliefs and what he thinks his purpose is.  And Perceval is the Fool in mythology, the hopelessly naïve and uninitiated wanderer who is nonetheless capable of penetrating wisdom.  He’s one of the core powers of a tarot deck, if you have an interest in such, for example.  He knows there are huge questions and possibilities, but needs teachers to help him phrase the questions.

Wollert: But he gets so nervous from his tutelage that he never asks the most important question.

Geraldson: That’s true.  Sometimes teachers can scare you or indoctrinate you out of the curiosity which remains essential, and at the Grail Feast, Perceval is just too intimated.  He won’t become more daring until later.  Galahad is already ahead of him there.

Wollert: So who are your own favorite Arthurian writers, then?

Geraldson: From the Middle Ages, I have to go with Wolfram von Eschenbach, himself a knight, who raises a lot of Crusade themes and multicultural elements.  And more recently, I’d have to go with Parke Godwin, and his various books.  They’re written in person, from the perspectives of Arthur, Guinevere, and Gareth.

Wollert: Dale, thanks for taking the time to add some more of your own depth to this.  I always had a sense, reading your novel, that there was far more to it than met the eye.

Geraldson: Thanks, Edwin.  

What’s Dale reading right now?

I'm actually re-reading "The Mists of Avalon," by the late Marion Bradley, even though it's down below on my "favorites" list. It's been years since I've delved into that one, and while the Grail Quest isn't exactly at the top of her concerns, it's famous for its feminist take on the legends, with a strong Guinevere and Morgan le Fey.

What are Dale’s favorite books?

‘Firelord’ and ‘Beloved Exile,’ both by Parke Godwin;

‘Timeline,’ by Michael Crichton, though I’ve only read it in Spanish;

‘Parsifal,’ by Wolfram von Eschenbach;

‘Daughter of Tintagel,’ by Fay Sampson;

‘The Mists of Avalon,’ by Marion Zimmer Bradley;

‘The Chalice,’ by Phil Rickman;

‘Gilgamesh’ and ‘The Odyssey;'

‘The Book of Dead Philosophers,’ by Simon Critchley;

That should do for a top-ten list for now, I think.”                                 

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