The Holy Grail

It’s still snowing and I spent all day listening to an unabridged recording of Malory’s Le More d’Arthur, which is actually better in audio. Today I found a copy of Roger Lancelyn Green’s beloved adaptation in the Grandview library, but I can’t check it out because I have eighty dollars in fines, so I’m copying down part of the introduction where he talks about his sources.

Here are his sources:

I have followed Malory in the main, except for certain isolated stories which he does not include; but I have not felt bound to follow him slavishly—any more than he scrupled to adapt or combine his many French sources.

Staring from the historical Arthur, the Leader or Dux Bellorum whose position in the Britain of the fifth century, when the Roman civilization made its last stand against the Saxons, is described by R. G. Collingwood in his Roman Britain, I have gone on to make use of the pseudo-history of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and the verse chronicle of Layamon. These have given me a few ideas and details for Book One—but in essentials it is almost entirely Malory, except for the description of Balyn in the Grail Chapel, which comes from the French Merlin, and of Nimue’s imprisoning of Merlin from the Middle-English prose romance of Merlin.

In Book Two, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is taken from the famous Middle-English poem of that name; Launcelot’s first quest is from Malory, but the account of his arrival at Camelot (which Malory omits) is from the French prose romance Le Livre de Lancelot del Lac. Sir Gareth, the next story, seems to be Malory’s own invention, and I have followed him, condensing a little, and smoothing out the end. In dealing with Tristram I have deserted Malory and gone back to the earlier version (which he does not seem to have known) of Godfrey of Strasbourg. Geraint and Enid (not included by Malory) is adapted from the Welsh Mabinogian, with a detail or two from the Erec et Enide of Chretien de Troyes. Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell (not in Malory) is based on a Middle-English poem and a ballad, and seems never to have been retold; nor have the early adventures of Percivale, for which I have used another Middle-English poem and many incidents from the French Conte du Graal. Launcelot and Elaine is directly from Malory; and so also is my Book Three, The Quest of the Holy Grail, except for Gawain’s adventures at the Grail Castle which are from the German Diu Crone of Heinrich von dem Turlin, while the final adventures of Percivale are from the German Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach. (For synopses of both these poems I am indebted to the Studies on the Legend of the Holy Grail by Alfred Nutt.)

Book Four is directly from Malory, The Last Battle following him almost word for word in one of the finest tragedies in English literature. The death of Launcelot and Hector’s farewell is also Malory; but the account of the finding of the graves at Glastonbury is from a mediaeval Latin chronicle, and the story of the shepherd and the cavern is elaborated from the folk-tale preserved by Sir Edmund Chambers in his Arthur of Britain, to which book, and to J. D. Bruce’s magnificent work, The Evolution of Arthurian Romance, I am deeply indebted.

These are my sources, and I have used them very much as Malory used his originals. In place of the French ‘Arthurian Cycle’ I have had Malory’s own immortal book; like him I have drawn from the romances which he also used. But my net has been wider cast than his in my search for incidents and versions of one of the world’s greatest legends. No writer can rival Malory as the storyteller of the Morte D’Arthur as he told it almost exactly five hundred years ago—but the great legends, like the best of the fairy-tales, must be retold from age to age: there is always something new to be found in them, and each retelling brings them freshly and vividly before a new generation—and therein lies their immortality.


Let’s break this down:


Book I

1)      Malory. The more I get to know him, the more I like him.

2)      The French Merlin & the English Merlin


Book II

1)      Malory.

2)      Sir Gawain & the Green Knight (simply the greatest)

3)      Le Livre de Lancelot del Lac (Launcelot’s arrival at Camelot)

4)      Godfrey of Strasbourg (Tristram & Isolde)

5)      The Mabinogian (Geraint & Enid)

6)      Erec et Enide, Chretien de Troyes

7)      Sir Gawain & the Lady Ragnell (“a Middle-English poem and a ballad”)

8)      Percival: “another Middle-English poem,” and the Conte du Graal


Book III

1)      Malory.

2)      Diu Crone of Heinrich von dem Turlin (Gawain at the Grail castle)

3)      Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach


Book IV

1)      Malory.

2)      Sir Edmund Chambers, Arthur of Britan

3)      J. D. Bruce, The Evolution of Arthurian Romance



While I’m at it, I should go ahead and mark down the primary sources for my twenty favorite stories in Celtic Myths & Legends.



1) The Children of Lir                The Leabhar Gabhala (Book of Invasions)

2) The Love of Fand                   Serglige con Culainn (part of the Ulster Cycle)


Lady Gregory included “The Sickness of Culainn” in her 1902 book, Cuchalain of Muirtheme. “The Children of Lir” appears in the stories of the Tuatha Danaan and Fin McCool in her 1904 book, Gods and Fighting Men.


The Isle of Man

Of my two favorite Manx folktales, Ellis writes, “The Ben-Varrey (the Mermaid) seems to be a Manx version of a tale which appears in both the Western Isles of Scotland and in Ireland and Brittany, and seems a favourite among Celtic story-tellers. This was passed on to me by Douglas Fargher. Another story he first introduced to me was The Lossyr-ny-Keylley, which is a goldfinch. This certainly has similarities with several found in Ireland.”

Fargher was the compiler of the English-Manx dictionary. Ellis lists among his sources for this section W. Ralf Hall Caine’s Annals of the Magic Isle (1926) and Seamus McManus’s Donegal Fairy Stories (1900). Mention is also made of Samuel Lover’s Legends and Stories of Ireland (1831).



1)      Princess of the Fomorii

2)      Maighdean-mhara (“The Sea-Maid”)

3)      Conall Crog Buidhe

4)      The Kelpie

Each of the stories in this section came from one of the following sources: Campbell’s famous four-volume Popular Tales of the West Highlands (1860-62); Folklore of the Scottish Lochs and Springs by James M. MacKinlay (1893); Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica (1928-54; follow the link for some sweet Gaelic prayers); and William Forbes Skene’s monumental Celtic Scotland: A History of Ancient Alban (1876-80; link to Volume III).



1)      Llyn-y-Fan-Fach

2)      The Quest for Olwen

3)      The Dream of Rhonabwy


“Llyn-y-Fan Fach” (the story of the capricious lake maiden) has both written and oral sources. “The Quest for Olwen” can be found in the Mabinogian, but originated in The White Book of Rhydderch and The Red Book of Hergest (both Wiki links). “The Dream of Rhonabwy” also finds its origin in the Red Book.

Ellis recommends Sir John Rhys’s delightful two-volume Celtic Folklore, Welsh & Manx (1901), and William Jenkyn Thomas’s Welsh Fairy Book (1907) and More Welsh Fairy & Folk Tales (1958).


We’re getting to some of my favorites:


1)      The Bukkys

2)      Jowan Chy-an-Horth

3)      An Lys-an-Gwrys

“Jowan Chy-an-Horth” is the only complete folktale in the Cornish language. It was included in William Bottrell’s Traditions & Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall (1880; also here), and a version is included in Popular Tales of the West Highlands, under the title “Na Tri Chomhairlie.”

“The Bukkys,” the story on which Alice’s first misadventure was mostly based, can be found here.

“An Lys-an-Gwrys,” or “The Crystal Palace” (the story of Lord Howlek and the gates of Purgatory) comes from an oral tradition. It was collected by Len Truran in the Lizard Peninsula, though a version also exists in Brittany.



1)      The Destruction of Ker-Ys

2)      N’oun Doare

3)      The Anaon

4)      Koadalan

5)      The King of Bro Arc’hant

6)      Prinsez-a-Sterenn

For the section on Brittany, Ellis cites as two of his primary sources “the works of Anatole Le Braz” (especially his Land of Pardons [1884]), and Francois-Marie Luzel’s Contes Populaires de Basse-Bretagne (1879), among others.

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