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The Household of the Grail.
John Matthews (ed.). 
Aquarian Press. £6.99.

The Grail, whether ‘Holy’ or otherwise, has been an object of fascination for thousands of years. Some have sought it in the outer world, some in the inner, and yet others have tried to tell its story as a guide to others. In this book various authors give an account of the lives and writings of various writers on the Grail. Caitlin Matthews begins with a piece on the Celtic origins of the Grail. We then read about some of the originators of the written tales, beginning with Chretien de Troyes. Later articles cover modern writers, such as Dion Fortune. Charles Williams, whose occult thrillers, all both readable and profound, include War in Heaven (whose plot begins with the finding of the Grail in a local church), wrote a complex series of poems on Arthurian themes (Taliesin through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars); both the novel and the poems are discussed.

Jessie Weston was one of the first modern scholars, in the early years of this century, to give detailed consideration to the Grail legends. Her book, From Ritual to Romance, was a major influence on T. S. Eliot when he wrote The Waste Land. Patriarchal and limited thinking has made the works of Jessie Weston (and other scholars such as the classicist Jane Harrison) become eclipsed, but we are now learning how important their insights were. The current book would be worthwhile for Prudence Jones's account of Jessie Weston alone, even without the other very good articles.

Those who are familiar with the Grail lands will find the descriptions of earlier travellers to those regions, and of what they found, will deepen and enrich their understanding. Newcomers will be better served by some of the other excellent guidebooks to those lands, several of which also have John Matthews as an editor.

Wood and Water 33, Autumn 1990
© Daniel Cohen

 

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