The Holy Grail: The History of a Legend

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9780140267655: The Holy Grail: The History of a Legend

The Holy Grail is an image familiar to us all as an almost unattainable, infinitely desirable goal. The idea has passed into everyday speech and the legends behind it are as current in today's culture as they have ever been. And yet the Grail has no real religious meaning and is nowhere mentioned in the Bible. What is the truth behind this elusive symbol? Here, Barber traces the history of the stories surrounding the Holy Grail. He describes how through a long series of imaginative transformations, the grail has moved from the sphere of romance to religion, and in twentieth century popular culture has become an emblem of mysticism and man's highest aspirations, intimately linked with the central ritual of the Christian faith. The search for the grail has always been described as a quest; in this book, Barber goes on his own quest, brilliantly exploring the richness of the Holy Grail's cultural impact. Barber traces the history of legends surrounding the Holy Grail, from Chretien de Troyes' great romances to the popular bestsellers of the late twentieth century.

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Richard Barber's splendid new book presents a comprehensive survey of the search for the Holy Grail from the 12th century to the present day. It is part summary of the medieval romances and part synthesis of the commentary and interpretation that the Holy Grail has attracted...[T]his is a rich book, and like the romances it discusses, taps into a seemingly unending well of meaning. Barber has created a splendid foundation for a continuation to a compelling story.--Juliette Wood"The Times" (01/17/2004)

This is a stimulating study, which authoritatively explores one of the most enduring myths of Western culture. Its combination of scholarship and clarity might itself be described as an intellectual Holy Grail.--Michael Arditti"Daily Mail" (01/16/2004)

Barber is an Arthurian expert whose purpose is to hack a path through the muddled, corrupted and conflicting versions of the grail story...[He] is scrupulous in his fairness, his conclusions are interesting and although he keeps his reins tight on some fun he might have had, he performs a valuable service in rescuing the original grail from 800 years of garbled and improbable misreadings.--Nicholas Shakespeare"Daily Telegraph" (01/17/2004)

Richard Barber, who possesses both the medievalist expertise and the requisite calmness and clarity of thought...has produced a really valuable and fascinating book...Not only has Richard Barber dealt skilfully with the original medieval evidence; he has also traced the long after-life of the Grail legend, above all in its various 19th- and 20th-century avatars. This not only gives him the chance to investigate some modern literary history (Charles Williams, John Cowper Powys, et al); it also enables him to take a properly historical attitude to the various 'loony tunes' modern theories, by setting them in their own historical context...Overall, then, this is the most reassuringly sane of all modern writings on the whole 'Holy Grail' phenomenon. One finishes the book just wishing there were more works like it.--Noel Malcolm"Sunday Telegraph" (01/18/2004)

This book is a survey, as judicious as it is comprehensive, of versions of the Grail story, of the social and ideological contexts in which they evolved, of the symbols they employ and the literary conventions which shaped them. In it, Barber arrives at the conclusion, which will be shocking to new agers and conspiracy theorists everywhere, that the story of the Holy Grail had (in its original form) nothing to do with the cabbala, Cathars, Templars, Zoroastrians or Gnostics, that its origin is probably the obvious one, the first text in which it appears. The story of the Holy Grail is not a fragment of immemorially ancient lore: Chr?tien de Troyes, the 12th-century author of the "Le Roman de Perceval," made it up...In a book which consists largely of summaries of numerous versions of a single story some repetition is inevitable--this is a volume to browse in rather than one to read straight through--but Barber's sensitivity to the diversity of nuances in each of his many sources ensure

Consistently fascinating...It is essential reading for anyone interested in Arthurian romances and, chapter after chapter, offers sober correctives to countless misconceptions about the Grail and its supposed secret meanings...I doubt that anywhere else will one find so thorough and comprehensive an examination of the Grail, nor as careful and interesting a survey of the medieval stories that started it all. "The Holy Grail" is a major contribution to Arthuriana.--Eric Wargo"Washington Times" (04/04/2004)

Barber...demonstrates a gift for lucid, lively prose and an ability to make highly complex developments--cutting across religion, literature and politics--both immediate and accessible...[He] does a dexterous job of conveying the mood and texture of [the] variations on the Grail story, while at the same time illuminating the religious and political dramas that informed their creation...[M]akes for engaging reading as both literary criticism and cultural history, thanks largely to the author's fluency and aplomb as a writer.--Michiko Kakutani"New York Times" (02/20/2004)

What we need is a cool-headed guide through the Grail's long and curious history, and in Richard Barber's lucid, fair-minded, and wide-ranging book, we get it.--Richard Jenkyns"New Republic" (10/04/2004)

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