Component Elements and Developmet of Quest.
Thus at the back of our present Grail Quest stories lie, as we may conjectune [?], simple tales of which Perceval and Gawain (in Welsh, Peredur and Gwalchmai), were the heroes. In one the hero avenged the slaying of his father and the harm done to his uncle (the prototype of Sir Percyvelle); in another, by means of lance and sword he avenged the wrong done to uncle and cousin (prototype of the Peredur); another told how, penetrating to a magic castle within a waste and desert realm, he became master of a wonderworking talisman of fertility, and restored plenty to the land ; in another, by aid of the same talisman he either restored a kinsman to health or released him from supernaturally prolonged life, and took his place.
At an early stage of their development these stories, crystallising as they did round the same hero, would have a tendency to influence each other, to become confused. From out the mass of varying, but only slightly varying narratives, a few main forms would emerge, differentiated by greater or less insistence upon the vengeance or the unspelling theme, but betraying, as a rule, the mixture of both. The unspelling conception, as the more definitely mythic of the two, would suffer most change; the more recondite significance of the old mythic talisman of increase and plenty would tend to disappear; its material food-producing properties would subsist, and this characteristic, as a matter of fact, is found in every version in which the Grail appears, in Crestien as in Wolfram, in the Quête as in Perceval le Gallois. The recondite significance of the machinery (the question) by which the talisman is transferred to the hero's possession might likewise be expected to be lost, and, as a matter of fact, no version offers a satisfactory explanation, nor has any modern interpreter offered one that has won general acceptance. Thanks to the conservatism of story-tellers, it retained its place, but it became unintelligible. What relates to the vengeance conception, on the other hand, was retained in comparatively unchanged form; mythic it might be in origin and essence, yet its simply human character commended it as much to men of the twelfth century as to those of an earlier age. In the Peredur and in Manessier it has suffered little from contamination, but in Crestien and the remainder of the Conte del Graal it is subordinated to the unspelling quest, the Grail and question.
In the older Grail quests, though none is wholly free from the Christian element, yet that is, save in the Parzival, secondary; the knightly adventurous element predominates. It is otherwise in the later Grail quests (Quête, Perceval le Gallois). Here the Christian element dominates. The original sequence of incidents is boldly disregarded or radically modified; the original achiever of the quest, Perceval, is dispossessed by the new favourite in the Arthurian world, Lancelot, represented by his son Galahad. Naturally, the vengeance conception and the incidents by which it is embodied disappear; naturally, all that relates to the fertility talisman itself (now fully identified with the sacramental vessel) is magnified; naturally, the unintelligible question is almost entirely dropped. But still, though caught up to very heaven, though filled with the essence of divinity, still the Grail retains the material characteristics of an increase and plenty talisman.
In assuming the existence of an original mass of non-Christian narratives
from which the existing romances have derived a considerable portion of
their subject matter, we rely, though not solely, upon the existence of
the Peredur and the Sir Percyvelle. If these do not represent a stage
in the evolution of the Grail Quest romances older than and independent
of the Conte del Graal, they must needs be derived from that work. How
in that case account for the loss of the fertility talisman in the one
tale (Peredur) and of everything relating to the unspelling quest in the
other? Given common sense and absence of prejudice, the question answers
itself. But even if these two versions had disappeared the assumption
I have made would be legitimate. The Grail Quest romances are, in their
extant form, inextricably bound up with the Arthur legend as a whole,
and the Arthur legend rests for a very large part upon a basis of Celtic
folk and hero tales, representatives of which may still be found in the
older heroic romances of both branches of the Celtic race, the Irish and
the Welsh. Of these, the Irish is by far the older and richer, and the
oldest portion of the Welsh is so closely connected with Irish legend
as to give colour to the hypothesis that it is really due to an Irish
population settled in Wales in prehistoric times, and gradually driven
out or subjugated by the incoming Welshmen. It is In this old heroic and
mythic romance that the closest parallels are found to numerous incidents
and sequences of incidents frequently met with in the French Arthurian
stories of the twelfth century, and, what is even more significant than
parallelism of incident, there is parallelism of tone, of atmosphere,
of the modes of conceiving and presenting the story as a whole. In no
section of Arthurian romances are the minor parallelisms of incident with
the older Celtic legends more frequent than in the Grail Quest stories,
or is the parallelism of essential conception more intimate and striking.
Quelle: The Legends of The Holy Grail, Alfred Nutt, London 1902, S. 51ff