The Politics of Galahad
Galahad as a knight of the round table is problematic in almost every way. While his Bel inconnu story begins reasonably consistently with his own father ignorant of who he is when he knights him, and his being given the Siege Perilous without any deeds of his worthiness under his belt, it quickly devolves into something as destructive of the Round Table as Mordred’s treason. Here is a boy, raised not by knights, but by monks, who have raised him with a devotion to Christ, rather than a devotion to king and country. He comes to Arthur’s court only once, and not with any of the traditional purposes for which knights have sought out Camelot. His Purpose is not an earthly one, but a heavenly one. He does not owe or swear fealty to Arthur, his fealty is to God. There is this sense of both he and the Holy Grail just passing through, using Camelot as an appropriate starting place for some ineffable purpose. Arthur, sensing that, holds a tourney, the last great tourney of the Round Table, in part to see if the boy has any prowess at all. The son of Lancelot does not disappoint on the field, but neither does he take any lady’s favor, nor does he make friends among the martial brotherhood he has entered. He remains untouched by any call but that of the Grail, and when he departs on his quest, he does so alone despite the many offers of companionship he receives. His coming and the appearance of the Holy Grail in Arthur’s Court may have been astonishing, but it is also the end of the fellowship at Camelot. The Round Table has one hundred and fifty seats. Mallory writes that one hundred and fifty knights, all of the round table, take the grail quest vow. Arthur is gutted for a reason. He has literally lost his warband in one blow. The Round Table will never be whole again, all of the knights who take on the quest will fail, save the three whose family the quest always belonged to in the first place, and Galahad himself will die young as a result of achieving the Grail. This seems not to be any holy blessing from on high, but a strange sudden and baleful curse a generation in the making. This can only be due to a need for a change in how Arthur and his knights are seen. There is some outside force shaping this story, manipulating the characters people knew and loved for some agenda. It is religious in nature, and to my eye, ugly. The knights are lead one by one, out of the court of the earhtly king, and into the court of the heavenly one, who judges them. The valiant hearted like Lancelot confess their sins and become devoted to God. The ones lacking in such grace, like Gawain, refuse to repent and are cast out. Either way, the earthly kingdom is undone, and left defenseless, waiting for the wolves like Mordred who will finish it off.