Creative Arts Book of the Week 18/01/16

The Holy Grail on film: essays on the cinematic quest‘The Holy Grail on film: essays on the cinematic quest’ edited by Kevin J. Harty

The Holy Grail is an elusive object prompting many quests, both real and imagined, in the mediaeval and modern world. Such is its ambiguity it has been interpreted as a dish, plate, stone and a cup but it is the cup that has become part of an important theme in Arthurian literature.  It was the quest for the Grail which led King Arthur to choose his Knights of the Round Table and set off in pursuit of this ‘lost’ relic. See Credo Reference for more historical context and definitions on the Holy Grail.  Despite the many historians, theologians and fiction writers who have described it in their writings and the churches that claim to possess it, has anyone actually found the genuine article?

Throughout history the Holy Grail has also been depicted through art.  The Holy Grail and the legends of King Arthur were popular subjects painted by the nineteenth century Pre-Raphaelites when mediaevalism, Romanticism, and the Gothic Revival reawakened interest in Arthur and the mediaeval romances. In music we had the 1975 progressive rock version of Rick Wakeman’s ‘Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table‘.  In literature, the bestselling book ‘Holy Blood and the Holy Grail‘ (1982) and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (2003).  The ‘quest’ in literature has always been a popular storyline and is discussed in depth by Christopher Booker in his ‘Seven basic plots: why we tell stories‘. Find out more about King Arthur’s quest in Discovery here.

The Holy Grail, the cup from the Last Supper, is among Christianity’s most sacred relics. Down through the ages, the quest to find the vessel has been the inspiration for many who are intent upon harnessing the power of the Grail for their own purposes.  According to legend, it has special powers, and is designed to provide happiness, eternal youth and food in infinite abundance. Belief in the Grail and interest in its potential whereabouts has never ceased. Ownership has been attributed to various groups, including the Knights Templar of the Holy Crusades, probably because they were at the peak of their influence around the time the Grail stories started circulating in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Published last year The Holy Grail on film is the first collection of essays to study the long film tradition depicting that quest. Seventeen film scholars and cultural critics from Canada, France, Great Britain, and the United States discuss a wide range of American and European films which present a rich assortment of mediaeval and latter-day Grail knights. Films discussed include:  Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), a clever send-up of the Middle Ages but which became the modus operandi for schoolboys when learning about the history of that period.  Of course it also led to the multiple award winning stage production of Spamalot.  See Monty Python and the Holy Grail in its entirety on Box of Broadcasts here. There is also another favourite of mine that has been included: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).  The scene I most remember is when Indiana only has moments to find the real Holy Grail which is hidden among dozens of fakes in order to save his father’s life (see the book cover).  Other studies include Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King, The Da Vinci Code, The Waterboy, The Road Warrior, The Silver Chalice, Excalibur, and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Undead. 

The Holy Grail on film is currently on the display shelf on the ground floor until it is moved to its permanent home on the first floor with the other film books.  Find out about films on our Film subject pages here.

And finally, don’t forget that Oddsocks will be at the New Theatre Royal on February 18th and 19th with their own interpretation of The Legend of King Arthur.


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