Percival and the Presence of God

Written by Jim Hunter
Review by Tracey A. Callison

This is the first novel reprinted in the Pendragon Fiction line. Originally published in England in 1978, the novel is an exploration of the motivation and desires of Percival, a young warrior brought up in the Arthurian code who seeks both Arthur and the Holy Grail as well as an understanding of God’s purpose.

This version is freely adapted using elements from both the Malory and Troyes versions of the tale. It begins with a grittily realistic battle scene, as Percival fights with Whiteflower’s men to free her castle from siege by bandits. Whiteflower’s seduction of Percival is grounded not in magic but in the realistic portrayal of a young man recently blooded in battle and the widowed Whiteflower’s need for a protector. Their liaison flowers into true love over the course of a winter, but Percival’s compulsion to find Arthur and to discover a deeper purpose to life drives him from her side. He is also influenced in all things by the example of his tutor, the warrior Brund, who had schooled him in Arthur’s code. Frequent flashbacks to his training with Brund (and the warrior’s ignominious death) pepper the story, providing a richness and depth to Percival’s motivations and actions.

After leaving Whiteflower, his travels bring him to the hall of the Fisher-Lord, where he witnesses the procession of the Grail. Remaining silent, he fails to end the suffering of the Fisher-Lord and to bring the Grail into the world, and this failure drives him henceforth. He searches fruitlessly for Arthur only to be disappointed time and again. At the end of the story, he remarks “I no longer believe in Arthur, it being all I can manage to believe in God.” As the title might suggest, there is a strong preoccupation with moral questions (the novel is referred to by the editor as the only Arthurian Christian existential novel ever written). The tone, however, is not heavy but reflective, examining the questions of love, loss and faith.