Against the great panorama of the Middle Ages, when brave knights wore shining armor and rescued lovely maidens in distress, and castles loomed before one then disappeared in gray mists; where a crucial quest awaited anyone adventurous enough to seek it;; where the qualities of chivalry, honor, loyalty warred with desire, greed, and dogma – a powerful novel emerged: Parzival, the tale of a boy who longed to become a knight and serve King Arthur.
Parzival is a good boy and an even better man. He is courteous, obedient, delightful to look at, and charming in every way. He does his duty as conscientiously as possible. He is, to a fault, desirous of being liked and, for the most part, he always does what he is told.
That is, until he encounters a group of knights for the first time. In an instant, he recognizes his heart’s desire: to become a knight himself. His mother, desperately unhappy at his insistence on setting off in his dead father’s footsteps, dresses him in Fool’s clothing, gives him a sway-backed horse that is unlikely to travel far, and offers advice that she hopes will have him scurrying back home to her within a matter of days. Cheerfully, gratefully, and stubbornly, Parzival kisses her goodbye and sets off.
Parzival asks for advice frequently, and takes the advice he is given literally. The innocent boy passes through many strange adventures, heartbreaks, fearsome battles, and dream-like encounters, before he is given the rare opportunity not only of finding the vigilantly-guarded castle in which the Grail is hidden, but the Grail itself, that mysterious vessel that is the source of unlimited nourishment – the source of life – to all who are in its presence.
However, failing to save the Fisher-King from the agony of his terrible wound, because he politely followed the advice of a well-meaning knight who had urged him on no account to ask too many questions, Parzival angrily disavows knighthood, society, God, and even his beloved wife. He retreats into the forest, a rebel, a seeker, and stays with an old Hermit in the darkest part of the woods, where he learns deeper truths than mere conventions can teach him.
Many years pass, and eventually Parzival proves himself noble, brave, loyal, and seeks redemption. He has hurt many people, through no fault of his own, but simply through ignorance and the desire to do the right thing. Now, by understanding his authentic nature and following his own heart, he is able to, one by one, make those wrongs right again.
By redeeming himself in this way, Parzival is given a rare second chance to ask the Fisher-King the all-important question, the question that will heal his frightful wound and be the salvation of the kingdom.
Writing Practice – Write Your Own Quest Story
This practice requires a Tarot deck. If you don’t have one, use a regular playing deck. Shuffle your cards, then fan them out in front of you. Select three cards and lay them out in the form of a chalice, or grail, with the stem at the bottom and the cup part on the top. Look at the cards for a while. Let them sink into you. Don’t try to figure out their meaning, but instead let a question come to you. If you see a queen of swords or spades, what kind of figure might she play in your story? How about the ace of pentacles or diamonds? Listen for the question, and then begin to write.
Set your tale against the delightful Medieval backdrop of fabulous tournaments, mysterious castles, noble (or not) crusades, powerful kingdoms, and strange mythical creatures. Use the ornate, charming, courteous language of centuries past. Consider the themes of love, chivalry, and honor to weave your story to its conclusion.
Your task in this exercise is to delve into the significance of imagery and archetypes. Look at the archetypes in the Major Arcana of your Tarot deck, beginning with Parzival, the Fool. Why is he looking up at the sky instead of down at the cliff’s edge? What is that dog doing there? Pick up another card: what do the swords, the cups, the wands, or the pentacles remind you of? When Parzival saw three drops of blood in the white snow, why was it three, and not four or seven? What do various numbers represent? What about color: what do you feel when you see red? Why was the Red Knight dressed all in red, from head to foot, and even his horse was red? What planet is associated with red? When you see red, what do you know about yourself?
Bring into your story the symbolism of the stars: in the story of Parzival, when Saturn is in the sky at the time of the full moon, the fisher king’s wound gets so painful he shrieks in agony. What is it about Saturn that can bring such suffering?
Ask a question. For example, if faced with making a decision based on love or honor, which would you choose?
Or, if you loved someone with all your heart, would you rather they were ugly by day and beautiful by night, or the reverse? (Or is there another answer?)
As you write, turn your back on any assumptions you might have about doing it well and properly, and instead delve into your own heart for something deeper. Just as Parzival retreated into the woods and remained with the Hermit to learn about himself, use this writing practice as a way of going inward.
- The herald approaching on horseback
- Fields of poppies and tall grass
- Spreading out the picnic blanket
- The lamps lit late in the evening
- Wedding bells