Edwin Wollert chats with author Dale Geraldson of “Dreamers of the Grail:”
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
Rewriting the Quest for the Grail entailed taking much of the detail away from
Arthur and the most famous characters already…
I noticed Merlin, while referred to often, never seems to make much of an
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.
That was the “Forever King” series, wasn’t it?
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.
So a woman might chase the Grail?
“Go after the impossible,” may be how I remember you phrasing it at one
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.
When you’re ready.
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.
How does one qualify success on something spiritual or philosophical, then? Or the failure that you mentioned
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.
One wonders what your professors must have thought of this.
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
I like that image. And some of
those classic philosophical ingredients found their way into “Dreamers,” didn’t
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.
So what does Perceval learn from that, prior to running about with Galahad?
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
But he gets so nervous from his tutelage that he never asks the most important
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
So who are your own favorite Arthurian writers, then?
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,
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.
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.
are Dale’s favorite books?
and ‘Beloved Exile,’ both by Parke Godwin;
‘Timeline,’ by Michael Crichton, though I’ve
only read it in Spanish;
‘Parsifal,’ by Wolfram von Eschenbach;
of Tintagel,’ by Fay Sampson;
‘The Mists of Avalon,’ by Marion Zimmer Bradley;
‘The Chalice,’ by Phil
‘Gilgamesh’ and ‘The Odyssey;'
‘The Book of Dead Philosophers,’ by Simon
should do for a top-ten list for now, I think.”
>Go To Ordering Information page>>>