Summary and Analysis Book 6: The Tale of the Holy Grail: Sir Percival


With the object of finding Galahad and overcoming him for his own greater glory, Percival asks an old recluse about Galahad's whereabouts. The recluse, Percival's aunt, tells him that his mother is dead from sorrow at his abandoning her for the fellowship of the Round Table and that the Round Table was created by Merlin as a symbol of the World, a place of false security which can lead to overweening pride. By Merlin's prophecy, only three Round Table Knights shall achieve the Grail Quest — two virgin knights and one who is chaste; and the best of these is Galahad.

Percival repents his proud wish to beat Galahad for glory, and his aunt tells him the way. Riding on, he comes upon a wounded knight four hundred years old, Sir Evelake, or Mordrayns, who in the days of Joseph of Aramathy, asked God that he not be allowed to die until he had seen the knight who would achieve the Grail Quest. The Lord granted Evelake's wish and promised that when Sir Evelake saw the Grail knight he would at last be healed.

Percival goes to find Galahad for him but is attacked by twenty knights who manage to kill his horse before Galahad saves Percival's life. Galahad then rides away again, still insisting on pursuing the quest alone. Percival walks in the forest, gets the gift of a hackney from a distressed squire, meets with a man on a black horse who kills the hackney and scornfully rides off.

Then a lady appears and gives him a black horse in return for his service. The horse runs four days' journey in an hour and is about to plunge into the sea when Percival crosses himself in fright and breaks the horse's demonic power. It shakes him off and goes flaming and howling into the water. Now Percival sees a serpent fighting a lion. He takes the lion's part, because it is a nobler beast, and kills the serpent. In a dream, the lady who owns the lion praises him and the lady of the serpent demands that, in payment for her pet, he become her man. He refuses.

A holy man comes to him on a white ship and explains the allegory: the lady of the lion is the New Law — faith, hope, belief, and baptism; the lady of the serpent is the Old Law, served by fiends (the black horse and serpent), and her request that he be her man was a temptation.

The holy man departs, arid now a black ship comes. A beautiful maiden tells Percival lies, gets him drunk, and lies naked with him in a splendid pavilion. Percival crosses himself; pavilion and lady vanish. The holy man returns, explains that the lady was the Devil himself, and that henceforth he must be more careful. The holy man vanishes and Percival boards his ship and leaves the place.