Saturday, March 06, 2010

"No mere theoretical treatise...."

I seem, rather like Merlin in my declining years, to find myself much concerned with faery tradition, though hopefully not with such unfortunate consequences as some assume to have happened to the great mage. Anyhow, scribbler to the end, I have just completed a manuscript on Melusine of Lusignan and the Cult of the Faery Woman which should be published later this year by RJ Stewart books. In the meantime, by means of the review below, may I draw your attention to the already published The Faery Gates of Avalon which, although I say it myself, throws a new light on Arthurian studies by bringing to the fore the practical faery tradition that is latent within it. That is to say, many of the feminine characters are not so much human damsels in distress as faery beings leading chosen knights into initiatory otherworld adventures. From whence it follows that early Arthurian romances, written some three hundred years before Sir Thomas Malory, can be useful practical manuals even today.

The Faery Gates of Avalon, Gareth Knight’s most recent work, is an invaluable guide to the meaning and power of the faery tradition as it appears in the main works of the medieval trouvére (perhaps best translated at “seeker and finder”) Chrétien de Troyes. Though widely recognised as the first of the Grail romanciers, Chrétien also wrote into his poetic tales a large amount of material dealing with the Realm of Faery. Sometimes, as in Erec and Enide, this material is concealed, whereas in other tales the faery elements are clearly visible.

The Faery Gates of Avalon opens with a brief introduction to Chrétien, his life and associations with the faery tradition, and to how some of his tales are connected to Welsh redactions in the Mabinogion.

Then follows a summary of the main scenes in four of Chrétien’s works: Erec and Enide, Lancelot and Guenevere, (or Knight of the Cart), Yvain (Knight of the Lion) and Le Conte du Graal. The latter given two chapters devoted to Perceval and Gawain, respectively, who are the two major hero figures in the tale. In addition to the clear and concise summaries, each of these chapters contains masterful insights into the main images and magical sequences of Chrétien’s faery world.

Gareth Knight’s book is no mere theoretical treatise, however, but a highly practical work, something perhaps missed by those who’ve come to expect “exercises” in every book. As Gareth says: “Chrétien’s romances can act not merely as works of reference on faery tradition, but as devices for tuning consciousness toward reception of such contacts ourselves.” In order to achieve this tuning, it is useful to read Chrétien’s text in conjunction with Gareth’s book. Gareth Knight is a long-time student of medieval French and thus is capable of reading Chrétien’s work in the original, but for those looking for good English translations, he recommends the highly accessible Arthurian Romances translated by William W. Kibler and published by Penguin Classics in 1991.

Additional practical help is given in the final two chapters of The Faery Gates. Chapter Seven deals with the key characters, locations and situations in Chrétien’s faery realm. Here we read of the significance of questing heroes, faery partners, helpers and guides, guardians and adversaries, and mystery centres and their custodians. Chapter Eight, entitled, “Reopening the Faery Gates”, presents a visionary sequence that can be followed in meditation, but which is open-ended in a way that allows each of us to create our own “continuation” just as Chrétien’s unfinished Conte du Graal sparked a number of literary continuations.

Chrétien falls into the long line of initiate-poets and authors whose ranks include Homer, Apuleius and Dion Fortune. His narrative visions of the land of faery present a series of transformative initiatory scenarios that can be entered in waking dream-vision and drawn upon according to our level of skill and experience.

No matter what level we are at, however, Gareth Knight’s Faery Gates of Avalon stands alone as the definitive guide to our journeys.
CYH Brown

The Faery Gates of Avalon by Gareth Knight (218 pages, paperback) is published by R J Stewart Books. $17.99 US £15.95 UK