Rosemary Sutcliff's The Light Beyond the Forest is a retelling of the quest to retrieve the Holy Grail, undertaken by four of the Knights of the Round Table - Lancelot, Bors, Percival and Galahad. This story recounts one of the more famous Arthurian legends in English history, and demonstrates both the virtues and flaws of noble knights on a crusade for their king and their God. Due to the scope and the majesty of this noble adventure, the knights conduct many feats of chivalry and heroism - sometimes, their lack of virtue comes back to haunt them and affect their journey. The knights in The Light Beyond the Forest demonstrate the virtues of chivalry and heroism, providing wonderful allegories for its audience as to what knightly behavior would be.
The Knights of the Round Table and the Quest for the Holy Grail are some of the most well-known stories in popular culture. "The collected songs and stories that shaped Arthur's legend revolve around the figure of the hero, the ancient symbol of the human spiritual search" (Kenney, p. 46). As a result, in order to show the different sides of the search for truth and spirituality, four different knights offer four different perspectives - they are "symbolic embodiments of the possibility of spiritual transformation" (Kenney, p. 46). Lancelot, Bors, Percival and Galahad have their own unique transformations and trials as they go forth through the quest for the Grail in Light Beyond the Forest.
First, Sir Lancelot is one of the highest-ranking knights of the Round Table, a fierce warrior with a tremendous amount of loyalty to King Arthur. He is a skilled fighter, and a brave knight. However, his moral fortitude is undercut by his affair with Guinevere, wife of King Arthur. He is one of the most flawed of the knights; when he sets out on his journey, he has already compromised himself as an adulterer. As a result, when he reaches the Grail, he is only permitted to glance at it, it appearing to him in a fuzzy image in a dream. When he is asked by the pope to atone for his sins, he admits to his affair with Guinevere to attempt to distance himself from the crime and the guilt (Malory, 1485).
Comparing Lancelot to Bors, Bors is one of the more virtuous characters in the book, as he displays an incredible amount of moral fortitude in his particular trials. Bors is an extremely virtuous character, as he maintains his chastity even when a lady threatens to kill herself unless he has sex with her. Later in the book, Bors is torn between saving a young maiden who is going to be kidnapped by a rogue knight, and saving his brother Lionel. He makes the choice to save the maiden; though Lionel is captured, the choice to save the woman is very much in line with the tenets of chivalry. Even the Lord is on his side and rewards his actions; when an escaped Lionel attempts to kill Bors, God strikes him down. The mere fact that God intervenes to directly save his life is evidence that Bors is an extremely heroic and virtuous figure, laying down his life for the protection of a lady.
Percival is the earliest hero in the Grail story; in his original story, the original author, de Troyes, died before Percival's story could be completed; however, what does remain demonstrates a man who is extremely chivalrous and heroic, but his deeds are eventually for not because he lacks the intelligence to use his heroism wisely. Percival runs into the Fisher King, who invites him to his own castle. While there, he sees what appears to be an elaborate grail, but he does not bother to ask whether or not that was the Holy Grail; when he sees a lance with blood on it, he also does not ask about it. These mistakes lead to the death of the king, showing that chivalry and heroism may not quite be enough to be a knight; intelligence and cunning is important as well.
Galahad is the personification of perfection in the book. He is without sin; no amount of chivalry will allow the other knights to match his virtue. His adventures on his own demonstrate his incredible chivalry and heroism. At the Castle of Maidens, he was challenged to combat by seven brothers, who would constantly steal maidens for their own. However, he quickly defeats them and rescues the maidens, denoting his incredible virtue. Galahad, having none of the moral failings of his father, is the one who is destined to find the Grail, and his bravery in seeking it out makes him the model of a hero in the book. His virtue even makes him the best fighter; confusing him with someone else, Lancelot and Percival attack him, only for Galahad to knock them off their horses (Queste de Saint Graal, 1230).
Each knight presents a different perspective on chivalry and heroism in Light Beyond the Forest. Lancelot is a skilled warrior, but far from chivalrous due to his adultery - he is prevented from seeing the glory of the Grail. Bors is an extremely virtuous figure, fighting and sacrificing for the welfare of women who need help. Percival means well, and is appropriately skilled, but is not intelligent enough to be able to save the king's life. However, Galahad bests all of the others in intelligence and virtue, besting them in battle and as a knight. These different perspectives of chivalry and heroism are presented through the tales of these four different knights and their quest for ultimate connection to God.
- book follows quest for the Holy Grail through the perspectives of Lancelot, Bors, Galahad and Percival
THESIS: The knights of the Round Table exhibit (and notably fail to exhibit) various examples of chivalry and heroism in their quest for the Holy Grail.
- Lancelot is a chivalrous figure, but his moral fortitude is undercut by his affair with Guinevere.
- Bors is an extremely virtuous character, as he maintains his chastity even when a lady threatens to kill herself unless he has sex with her.
- Bors saves a maiden over his brother Lionel
- Bors is even protected by God when Lionel comes back to murder him
- Percival runs into the Fisher King, who is injured
- Percival fails to ask the question that would have saved the Fisher King's life
- Percival is chivalrous, but far from heroic as he is not quick to action
- The personification of perfection in the book.
- Galahad is without sin; no amount of chivalry will allow the other knights to match his virtue.
- Each knight presents a different perspective on chivalry and heroism in Light Beyond the Forest
- Galahad becomes the hero that Lancelot could not be
Kenney, Jim. "The Hero's Quest and the Holy Grail." Interreligious Insight vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 43-
50. 2008. Print.
Malory, Thomas. Le Morte d'Arthur. 1485. Print.
Queste del Saint Graal, 1230 (Vulgate Cycle). Print.
Sutcliff, Rosemary. The Light Beyond the Forest. Paw Prints, 2008. Print.