From my understanding, most people have never heard of Parzival, so I suppose I must begin by enlightening you on who he was. I’m sure you’re all familiar with King Arthur and the Round Table. If not, in quick summary, King Arthur created an exclusive group of knights who sat about a round table that represented the equality between them all (because the table was round, no one sat at the head). Parzival was one of these knights, and he fought very hard to achieve this. This book tells his story and how he learned the ways of knighthood, making many consequential mistakes along the way. Although the book is titled “Parzival,” it also tells the story of Gawain, another knight of the Round Table. I believe his story was included to highlight the polarities and differences between the two knights and how they changed and matured.
Parzival’s upbringing was anything but knightly. His father was a renowned knight, but he died in combat and his mother was fearful that the same fate would fall upon her son. She never spoke of knights, and sheltered Parzival, hoping he’d stay with her in the safety of their secluded home in the woods forever. Obviously, this did not happen, and one day, Parzival came across a trio of knights in gleaming armour in the woods. He was completely awestruck, and because his mother had sheltered him so, he was convinced that he was in the presence of God. The bemused knights told him otherwise, and he rushed home telling his dismayed mother he wished to ride off and become a knight. Completely distraught, she dressed him in fools’ clothes and gave him a lame pony, still hoping he’d embarrass himself and come back to her.
Farther along his journey, Parzival comes across a castle (which he later discovered was the Grail Castle). While at the castle, he witnesses a beautiful display of the Holy Grail, and is itching to ask a question, but does not end up asking it. When he leaves, he is chastised by the guard for not asking the question. Parzival later learns that by asking the question, he could’ve saved an injured king and freed all the inhabitants of the castle from their captivity. He is utterly disappointed in himself and ashamed at his failure. Parzival realises that he is not worthy of the Round Table until he rights his wrong. He then goes in search of the Grail Castle once again, hoping to earn his place at the Round Table.
Though this book was a bit dry at some parts, I still think its was an intriguing read, as I really don’t know much about knights and their customs. It was also interesting to hear a bit more about this time period (the middle ages in Europe), and how vastly different it is from today’s world. This story was originally passed down orally by the French, and was later transcribed in German by Eschenbach. Some French words in the story were left untranslated which helped maintain and emphasise the culture and tradition described in the book. Though it was not the easiest read, I don’t regret reading it, and I think anyone who is interested in knights and the middle ages would enjoy it.