Parzival by Wolfram Von Eschenbach

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.

-Elina T.

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott

The Alchemyst, by Michael Scott, is a fantasy novel with both medieval European history and mythology from all around the world woven into it. The story follows Sophie and Josh Newman, two normal teenaged twins spending the summer in San Fransisco while their parents work at an archeological dig in Arizona. Little do they know that their lives are about to be changed forever. 

Sophie and Josh experience one shock after another as they come to realize that the world is full of magic. But not the type of magic we think of straight away. In their world, it is believed that, over time, the human race has neglected the full use of all of their senses. When people are Awakened, when the full extent of the capacities of their senses are activated, what they have the ability to do seems like magic. 

But magic isn’t the only thing that they discover to be true. Famous historical figures, like Nicholas Flamel and his wife, Perenelle, are still alive and have been living on this earth under different aliases for hundreds of years. And even more intriguing, the twins find that figures straight from fairy tales and myths roam the earth. 

Sophie and Josh are dragged into a thrilling and dangerous chase when they unwittingly witness the Book of Abraham the Mage being stolen from Nicholas Flamel. This book, the Codex, contains the recipe for the Elixir of Life, and without it, Nicholas and his wife will age rapidly and perish within the month. But the book also contains another spell. A spell that could compromise the liberty of the human race. Sophie and Josh must assist Nicholas in retrieving the book, else risk the existence of the world as they know it. 

What I admired most about this book was that it introduced mythological characters, creatures, and places from from a variety of different countries. In the world that Scott has created, all of these mythological figures live in the same world and interact with one another. I also enjoyed the historical content that Scott weaves into the story. European history has always piqued my interest, what with all the drama and their heavy belief in the gods. This book provided a sound union of history and mythology and was a very compelling read. 

This book is definitely not monotonous, and in fact is very fast-paced and filled with adventure. It was also easy to relate to the main characters (the twins) and what was going through their minds as their eyes were opened up to the world of magic before them. I enjoyed this book very much, and look forward to reading the remainder of the series. (There are five more books: The Magician, The Sorceress, The Necromancer, The Warlock, and The Enchantress).

-Elina T.

The Alchemyst by Michael Scott, and the rest of the books in the series, are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library