Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Summer Reading: The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief by Richard Barber


The Holy Grail is a myth. It never existed, except in the imagination of a medieval storyteller named Chrétien de Troyes who wrote a romance on it, which he never finished. Tantalized by the unfinished masterpiece, many other writers tried their hand at finishing the tale, and the story became a phenomenon and passed into the consciousness of Western culture. The Holy Grail is an icon of the Catholic imagination, a seamless blend of faith with adventure, and an excellent demonstration of what power can be unleashed when the human imagination encounters faith. If you ever doubt the ability of the imagination to change culture and lives, read this book.

Richard Barber has written a scholarly and compelling examination of the entire Grail corpus, starting with Chrétien and continuing through the most famous and most obscure of the retellings to show the development of the story through the centuries, forming a body of written tradition so large that moderns were convinced that the Grail must be based on some historical object. An amazing testament to the power of the human imagination. And although Barber writes from a purely secular perspective, his research testifies to the impact of what can be called the original "Catholic fiction."

I'm re-reading this book for the second time because the Grail story remains so fascinating and Berber's minute analysis is so compelling. A must-read for anyone revisiting the Grail story in their own fiction, or for anyone interested in the history of the Catholic imagination.

The Holy Grail is a myth. Not an ancient myth, but one created by a well-documented human author. But a myth can have more power than a historical account. If you doubt that, read this book.

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