The Waste Land: An Entertainment

Written by Simon Acland
Review by Ilysa Magnus

Hugh de Verdon reluctantly enters the monastery at Cluny in the 11th century, still dreaming of becoming a knight like his father. Meanwhile, in modern times, a group of English college professors discovers a manuscript in their library telling of Hugh’s adventures and resolve to turn the translation into a bestseller to save the college. The professors respond in stereotypical fashion to each chapter as though reading a draft of the translated manuscript, and their petty squabbles soon take a more ominous tone while still providing a humorous backdrop to the medieval tale.

Hugh’s adventures take him away from the monastery to join the Crusades, but he soon discovers the venality and ruthlessness of supposedly Christian men, and his faith is shaken. His story is compared to the tale of Perceval as told by Chrétien of Troyes, and he does experience strange events that are presented as the true history of the Holy Grail. Acland depicts medieval warfare in all its gory detail but also paints a realistic and sympathetic picture of a sheltered young man trying to find his place in a violent world. The historical details ring true, from the progression of the Crusades to the manuscripts Hugh uses to complete his quest.

The Waste Land would appeal to anyone enamored of the holy grail mythos or interested in the Crusades. Some knowledge of the Gospels would be helpful in following the story to its conclusion, but that is not necessary to enjoy this exciting tale of historical intrigue.