Thoughts on “Grail”, Book 5 of the Pendragon Cycle

“Grail” was … disappointing, after the high of “Pendragon”.

Since “Grail” describes one of the most clear and cleanest and deepest stories in Arthurian legend, I was hoping that Lawhead would continue from what he had done in “Pendragon” and create a deep story. The fact that Gwalchavad quickly grew to become my favourite of all of the narrators should have made this my favourite book but, like Pelleas, the superior narrator ended up in an inferior story.

The main issue here, I think, is the limitations of the first-person narrative-style that Lawhead adopted for this series. While other works managed to avoid much of the issues, the story in this one relied on us knowing things that the narrator wouldn’t have known. Thus, the introduction of the Morgian sections to fill in some of the details, which did give some insight into her as a character. Unfortunately, they were too short and too few and far between to really add depth to the character, and so mostly served to fill us in on the success of her plan until the end, which made them a bit pointless. The meat of the Grail quest itself went with Gwalchavad, but the interesting parts of the story went with Arthur and the others. Thus, most of the story was filled with bits of mystical action meaningful to the character himself, but not as much to the overall story, which weakened the overarching story.

That being said, the ending to the quest was, in fact, done pretty well, even if it ended up whisking away much of the dramatic power of the earlier books. But the last stand and how it related to the Grail itself was very well done, and the tricks used to defeat Morgian’s powers, and the redemption of Llenlleawg works, but the story would have benefited more from his interactions with Morgaws, so that we could see his struggle and seduction so that the change of heart would have had more meaning for us, and we would have hoped more for that all along. A third-person perspective would have allowed for this while still keeping the situation obscure and hidden, while the first-person didn’t allow for that. If he had been executed, most readers would have had little reason to think anything other than that he got what he deserved.

Ultimately, it wasn’t a bad book, but it’s not as good, in my opinion, as “Pendragon” or most of the others. Lawhead does still manage to provide an interesting twist on the legends, but here the Grail quest is too different from what happened to really preserve that link, and the replacement story, in and of itself, isn’t as interesting as the actual legend. Except for the ending.

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3 Responses to “Thoughts on “Grail”, Book 5 of the Pendragon Cycle”

  1. malcolmthecynic Says:

    Hmmmmm, interesting.

    I thought the Morgian sections were very good. They provide much needed depth to her character, who otherwise would be a fairly two dimensional villain (which is the big problem with Medraut in book three of “Arthur”).

    How do you think the ending whisked away much of the dramatic power of the earlier books? I never got that impression.

    If he had been executed, most readers would have had little reason to think anything other than that he got what he deserved.

    Well, he WOULD have gotten what he deserved. Arthur, because of Guinevere’s intervention, was showing him mercy.

    We do get a sense of how powerful Morgaws is, I think. Galahad is one of the most morally upright characters in a series full of morally upright characters. And Morgaws nearly got to HIM. That’s significant.

    Plus, I liked Lancelot (those byzantine spellings always throw me off). He was one of my favorite characters from the previous books. His betrayal was a serious disappointment – in a narratively good way – for that reason alone.

    I would be interested in Lawhead writing a book about what happened between “Grail” and part three of “Arthur” to get Lancelot back in Arthur’s good graces.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      I did like the Morgian sections, and thought they added to the character. My objection is that I wanted more of them and for them to do more — especially towards the end — than telling us what we couldn’t get from the first-person and letting Morgian villain-gloat.

      The hardships that the party went through — especially the apparent death of half of them — were great dramatically. It made everything seem like a threat and gave the final three reasons to think that all was lost. And then, at the end … it was all an illusion. Now, it is, in fact, totally consistent with both Morgian and Morgana that it be illusions, but it can almost feel like a “It was all a dream” cop-out. If you read the third book of “Arthur” first, then you almost certainly know that something is up (because I think that some of those characters are mentioned there) and if you haven’t, then it’s kinda an aside “Oh, this never really happened”. It’s not bad, but it is something that I noted while reading it.

      Given Lancelot’s Face-Heel Turn, at the end we’re supposed to consider this a Heel-Face Turn, and so think that his actions at the end redeem him a bit. We’re supposed to think that it’d only be technicality or the greater good to actually execute him, not that he deserves it because of his character. But since we didn’t see anything from his perspective, we don’t have much reason to think that he didn’t do it mostly willingly and only switched at the end, especially considering the terrible things Morgian suggests she’ll get him to do. So despite my liking the character, too, without his perspective we don’t really get to feel sorry for him, and so as I said if Guinevere hadn’t stood up for him we would have thought that it was just clear justice and the righteous ending of the story, and not as something tragic. This isn’t helped by Arthur normally being the person to advocate for mercy but here being totally gung-ho on the execution idea. and his greatest advocate being someone with a clear personal bond to him.

      Galahad is definitely morally upright, but Gwalchavad … not so much, at least as presented here. Given how he reacts to Morgaws originally, it seems that he would have been less annoyed if she had attached herself to him than Lancelot was … and nothing in the book sets him up as being immune to such blandishments, unless I missed something. So then we don’t really know why Morgaws attached herself to Lancelot, and so part of the reason might well be his personality, making him more willing than otherwise.

      • malcolmthecynic Says:

        For the record, the fake death scene is, I think, one of the most important reasons NOT to read book three of “Arthur” first. Along with the establishment of Guinevere’s character in “Pendragon” and Galahad’s character in “Arthur”, which add a lot of pathos that would otherwise be absent.

        We’re supposed to think that it’d only be technicality or the greater good to actually execute him, not that he deserves it because of his character. But since we didn’t see anything from his perspective, we don’t have much reason to think that he didn’t do it mostly willingly and only switched at the end, especially considering the terrible things Morgian suggests she’ll get him to do.

        Well, it banks on a few things:

        1) We’ve seen Morgian’s powers at work with Galahad

        2) We know and like Lancelot

        3) We believe his acceptance of Arthur’s punishment to be genuine

        What Arthur was doing was absolutely and totally an act of mercy. Lancelot did not deserve it. He did not deserve to live. He himself admits as much. But Guinevere advocates on his behalf and it I think Lawhead makes it pretty clear that Morgaws’s deceptions are very powerful. I was glad he wasn’t killed.

        As for their deaths being a vision…I was thrilled when I learned about it. I liked Bedwyr and Cai.

        Also, the scene at the tree where Lancelot is charging at them is awesome.

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