CAMELOT AND CORBENIC
Die ich rief, die Geister,
Werd ich nun nicht los.
GOETHE, Der Zauberlehrling.
WHEN, in his seclusion, Malory began to turn over his faded folios of the French Arthurian Cycle, he must have felt as did Goethe Zauberlehrling when the spirits he had set free refused to obey him. For in the famous French books which at first seemed so attractive there were more evil than good spirits. Not only were Malory's sources overburdened with adventures of the sort he disliked, not only did they introduce Dinadan's displeasing criticisms of knightly customs, but they had as their base a conception of chivalry which was the very opposite of Malory's. From his point of view, the central figures in the story were Lancelot and King Arthur. To him the Arthurian stories were a monument to the glory of earthly chivalry and its virtuous deeds. According to Caxton, the book depicts 'noble chivalry, humanity, friendliness, hardiness, love, friendship', and for these virtues there could be no better symbols than Lancelot and Arthur. In Malory's eyes the quest of the Holy Grail is only one of their adventures, perhaps the most attractive and the most pious, but hardly a sustaining chord in the whole epic. The point of view of the French authors of the Arthurian Cycle was different. The Queste was its central part and gave the key to the whole work.
I have mentioned before that the French Prose Cycle was lacking in sequence or unity, that having diminished the importance of sentiment it yielded a series of unconnected and uninspired adventures.1 But behind its apparent shapelessness there was in the Cycle a definite____________________