cover image Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth

Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth

Joseph Campbell, edited by Evans Lansing Smith. New World Library, $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-60868-324-6

Campbell (1904%E2%80%931987) is well known for his belief that all the myths of humankind derived from basic prehistoric experiences. Whatever one thinks of Campbell's pseudo-anthropology, this collection on Arthurian myth%E2%80%94cobbled together from lectures and other archival materials from the Joseph Campbell Foundation%E2%80%94is rife with misreadings, historical inaccuracies, and non sequiturs. Perhaps out of respect for Campbell, editor Smith failed to check many of the historical facts in his notes. There are simple slips, such as identifying Marie de Champagne as the granddaughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, rather than her daughter. But other, more significant errors undermine Campbell's work. For instance, a discussion of the Roman Empire rests on the outdated belief that Christianity caused its downfall. A consideration of Gawain and the Green Knight rests on a misreading of the Middle English word "gyrdel" as "garter" rather than "belt." Attempting to tie the medieval story of Parzifal into Eastern history, Campbell insists that historical characters interacted in ahistorical ways. Most of the book is made up of Campbell's retelling of the Arthurian legends, giving them his own spin. Perhaps if Campbell had edited the essays himself he would have corrected the errors, but this inaccurate collection will do nothing to help his reputation. (Nov.)