Thursday, September 6, 2012

Grimm Legends: Grail Quest

I'll be the first to admit that it took an outside perspective to smack me with the dead fish and point out the Grail parallels in Grimm. (Thank the husbeast.) But once I saw them, I couldn't un-see them for the life of me. I have Arthuriana goggles. They're worse than slash goggles. But they're HELPING.

We already know the writers and show-runners are using old-school symbolism. Characters have significant(ly groan-worthy)  names, Billy Capra, Hanson and Gracie, Leo Taymor. The allied species are the more benign ones, foxes and a wolf and Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, and the enemy species are hags, trolls, and ogres. The forest is the place where all the bad shit happens. Blood magic, both sympathetic and bloodline.

We also already knew that they were playing up the numbers game. We touched on the Rule of Three in the ritual with Renard and his priest-assassin thing in Last Grimm Standing, and seven is probably the most common number to choose when you want a blatantly Significant Number that's greater than three but manageable with a simple core storyline. Still, with the seven royal families and their seven knights (who I still suspect of being part of the Templars, but we don't have in-canon proof on that yet) and their one greatest treasure to rule them all, we've got some hefty evidence pointing not at the One Ring, but at the Grail itself. Or a Grail-like object, anyway.

The Grail is sometimes kept by the Fisher King (and more on that later), but sometimes also by virtuous guardians in Numerologically Significant quantity, depending on which version of the legend you're borrowing from, both ancient and modern retellings (cf. the maidens at the castle on the Isle of Glass). I refer you back to the entire scene with Kelly in Aunt Marie's trailer in Bad Teeth, where she really should have been using white cotton gloves to handle that poor, poor diary page. It's also fairly traditional for stories involving the Grail in post-Arthurian times to require some puzzle-solving, often involving a map. Not always a puzzle-map, but certainly the clues to the location of the Grail will be scattered geographically at a minimum. Seven knights, hiding a treasure, at least some of them working for the royal families during the Fourth Crusade. Who stole this treasure during the sack of Constantinople.

All Crusades after the Fourth, mind you, were more diplomatic than military in nature, which makes this the last major instance of using force to steal treasure from the Holy Land and/or what became the seat of the Eastern Orthodox church. Additionally, if our theory about the knights being part of the Templars is correct, we can bring this back to the kings of France at that time. In 1285, when Kelly referenced the "Wesen wars", Philip IV took the throne. He subsequently suppressed the Knights Templar, leading to their disbandment and the death of many of their members, because the stupid king owed them money and didn't want to pay it. (He also kicked out the Jews. I'm sure the standard usury accusations had something to do with that.) So we have seven families, seven knights, one king (who may or may not have been part of the Wesen royal families) throwing a shitfit about owing people money - and bets on the Wesen royal families using the coins to influence Philip IV in an attempt to bring their knights back in line? Particularly after said knights had just refused to hand over an artifact conferring phenomenal cosmic power. The connection between the Wesen-world royals and old European royalty is one I dearly would love to know more about, because until then a lot of this runs on speculation backed by infinite history geekery rather than canon.

Regardless of the medieval correspondences, the Arthurian ones are particularly strong. We appear to have in the royal families a dark mirror of Arthur's court, and particularly a dark mirror for the Grail Quest. Let's begin with Renard, because in some ways he's the easiest to cover. Certainly he is now, post-pure of heart potion. Renard is Galahad, and you laugh, but it fits. Like Renard, Galahad was a bastard son, born out of Lancelot's one night stand with Elaine. Which, if you don't remember the details of that story, involved Lancelot thinking he was going to Guinevere and being tricked by magic (similar to the magic that tricked Igraine into bedding Uther) into sleeping with Elaine. Though Lancelot refrained from killing Elaine when he discovered she was pregnant, he still didn't marry her. This creates all KINDS of interesting theories about the kind of family Renard came from and how, exactly, his mother slept with his father. And who's Arthur, anyway? So many of these parallels give us more questions for the answers they halfway offer.

(PS to writers: if you give Renard the traditional Galahad ending where he sees the Grail and then gets to choose his death, I hope you're aware of the impending fangirl mutiny. Have you SEEN Sasha's fans on Twitter/Tumblr?)

Now, we weren't quite sure who else fit into what slot for awhile there, because there's not a great deal of metaplot information on anyone else but the Burkhardts. BUT. Then I stopped after this most recent episode and thought about Hank's characterization, and the usual characterizations of the other knights, and realized he was probably Gawain.


Then I took down my Howard Pyle and flipped it open to the Dame Ragnelle story, only to be confronted by an illustration of Gawain with a griffin on his shield. WELL ALL RIGHT THEN. (I'm so glad I got my library all shelved before I started this essay.) Gawain is the champion of all women and as such is rarely associated with one as his wife - but when he is, it's Dame Ragnelle, the apparent hag who can only be beautiful half the time. Because he allows her her own way, the spell is broken and she returns to her natural state. I can't say Hank allowed Adalind her own way, nor that losing her hexen powers returns her to a natural state (unless we're preferring human status over Wesen status, which gives us a whole OTHER kettle of issues to deal with), but the beauty versus hag appearance? Yeah, we've got that going. And then there are the ex-wives jokes - in an updated, darker version of the legends I could well believe that a Gawain figure would feel obligated to do the marriage-and-kids-and-white-picket-fence thing, and be really confused as to why he keeps failing.

(Then again, given the way it appears the royals treat women, it's no surprise that Adalind doesn't trust that Hank could want her regardless of her appearance and without the blood magic. Instead of being able to grant her a chance to switch sides, Hank is forced into a far more passive role. It's a combination of a feminine role (because of the explicit Snow White parallels) and an emasculated role (see also all the men in Arthuriana who are tricked/drugged/seduced by women with witchcraft available). And the loss of her hexen side as punishment for that is an interesting twist on the story.)

Other odds and ends of parallels with Gawain include their loyalty, their sidekick-but-better-than-99%-of-everyone tendencies, their innate protectiveness of civilians. And if you'll remember what I wrote about Hank and the coins in 1x13? The downside of many of Arthur's knights, and the dark side of the Round Table, was that they used might to make right, rather than finding a better way. All the Arthurian knights have a certain tendency to be sure of their moral superiority due to their martial superiority, something that we have copious evidence is not and should not be true in a modern world. Gawain, too, is often portrayed as insular, preferring the company of his fellow knights to that of the external world. Indeed, that's portrayed as desirable, something for boys to aspire to. Here, the Grimm writers appear to be slowly but surely standing that representation on its head, as we begin to see how isolated the cops are from the outside world (seriously, has anyone had friends or family even mentioned as a throwaway other than Wesen of the week or metaplot reasons? I don't think so) and how psychologically damaging that is. I hope, anyway! Because it is, or it should be.

Obviously, we want to discuss the parallels between Hank and Gawain as relates to the Green Knight. But that would require a Green Knight figure to have appeared in the show - something I'm not at all sure we've had yet. You could, I suppose, make the argument that Adalind was something of a twisted Green Knight's wife to Hank, but given that Gawain and the Green Knight is a later addition to the traditional Arthurian canon, I kind of expect this particular reworking to be played out in a season or two. Possibly, yes, with Renard as the Green Knight figure - he does make for an excellent mysterious liminal figure, especially if he manages to keep his secrets from Nick and Hank for awhile. It's not yet clear if they'll pull this parallel in more fully, but if they do I would expect to have to do at least one entire post on nothing but that. After all, Gawain and the Green Knight still frustrates scholars with its myriad possible interpretations, any or all of which may be valid.

Gawain in legend has three children, the most notable of whom is Le Bel Inconnu; this son's stories are often rewritten to be about Gaheris or Perceval, something that will come into play a little later.

Kelly, from what little we know of her, seems to fit the Lancelot tropes fairly well. Certainly she fits the trope of the mad knight lost in the wilderness, believed to be dead for many years. And with the Coins of Zakynthos pointing the way to the Grail-object of Grimm's narrative, it appears that she was driven mad by her own Grail-style quest. I mean, nobody missed the Gollum look on her face in Bad Teeth, right? That wasn't just me and Kitty?

my preciousss...

Technically she should have come home to her husband, not to her son - and as I'll demonstrate shortly, in a multitude of ways Nick is not her son anymore, not after Marie raised him. And we badly, badly want this to make Reid Burkhardt Arthur and Gina who died in Kelly's place Guinevere. (It also, remembering that Guinevere is the one who cast Lancelot out for his affair with Elaine, creates some interesting possibilities for just why Gina WAS in that car instead of Kelly.) Unfortunately, other than the mad knight lost to the world trope and the existence of a third person closely associated with Nick's parents at the time of the accident, we don't have a lot of evidence to back this theory up. YET. So far it's the best theory that fits with the limited information we have about Kelly, particularly when even less of it is from any kind of reliable narrator. I assure you we'll be looking for it and then swearing in all our languages as we try to determine if it's a working theory or if we're suffering from confirmation bias.

On the surface of things, this would appear to set Nick up as the mirror to Renard's unlikeliest Galahad ever. On the other hand, Kelly didn't have much hand in raising him past the onset of puberty (which just for shits and giggles I will remind you all was about the same time boys became squires to knights). Marie, however? Took him away from the world of Grimm inheritance, the one where their grandfather told Kelly at age ten (seriously, think about how fucked up that is for a second) what they were up against. A world of constant fighting, to live in the relative peace and quiet of the human-only world, and to all appearances kept her Grimm activities from Nick for eighteen years.

Perceval was raised in the woods (in some versions with a twin brother) by his mother, alone. His father was dead, but after encountering several of Arthur's knights, he decided he wanted to become one, over his mother's objections. Obvious parallels here are obvious: Nick was raised apart from the Grimm/Wesen world, with a dead father and Marie as a mother figure. I keep feeling like there was an ep where Nick specifically referenced the accident, and possibly the cops who were there after, as motivation for becoming a cop, but I cannot for the life of me find it. (Help?) Even if I'm making that up, it would be a common fictional character motivation, lacking knowledge of Aunt Marie's profession. And I would not in the least be surprised if Marie had tried to discourage Nick from a job so close to what the Grimms, ideally, are supposed to be.

This is also the earliest recorded mention of a grail, and the basis for what eventually became the Grail Quest cycle. The situation in which Perceval proved his worthiness to join the Round Table (defeating a knight who had been a problem for Arthur/Guinevere/both, depending on your preferred version) is one we can only speculate on the veracity of, as is the situation under which he met and married Blanchefleur. However, of greater note is the Grail parallel: he's brought to the castle of the Fisher King (remember how I said more on that? We're almost there!) and shown the Grail, but told to be careful of what he says. He keeps entirely silent, only to discover later that had he asked the right questions, he could have healed the Fisher King. Now, we don't yet have an exact parallel to this in Nick's life, but it's been made abundantly clear to the audience (if not to Nick, who needs smacked with a trout) that keeping secrets from the people who care about him is going to end badly. In other words: keeping your mouth shut is not always the wisest option, even when other people warn you to be careful what you say and who you tell.

Actually, Nick keeps going back and back again to this theme of not asking enough questions, or the correct ones when he does. Which is a terrible trait for a detective; while I can understand not bringing your work home with you on purpose, it's another matter when your work keeps turning up at your door, in varying degrees of ominous. He's never asked Kelly if his father knew about her and Aunt Marie, and if Reid did know, what convinced him? He's never asked Monroe what might happen if a Grimm were to talk a friend/loved one through the initial insanity, because it's quite obvious that vanilla humans don't usually believe in Wesen because they think they're alone. At least if you take two seconds to think about it, it is. And despite the by now obvious shady things Renard's getting up to as of Quill, Nick hasn't asked a single damn question about what motivates his captain to do certain things, or if he might not be telling the whole truth for reasons other than protecting his men. Nick is awful, truly awful, at knowing what questions to ask, and I expect that to come back and bite him in the ass this season. Hard.

So while we only have the thematic throughline for some of the Nick/Perceval parallels, the attention the Grimm writers and showrunners pay to these themes would indicate to me that they're at least aware of these implications. Even if it's just having Arthuriana rattling around in their heads and some of it sneaks out onto script pages. (But I somehow don't think it's just that.) And while on the surface it might seem a bit odd to make Perceval the central character of the narrative, let's not forget that there were several other medieval authors who added to the original manuscript. If I wanted to write a TV show with Grail/Arthur themes, I would totally consider geeking out by, well, adding my own lines to the Perceval legend.

(I am not calling it Perceval fanfiction oh wait was that my outside voice? OOPS.)

A couple other points of interest with this parallel, now that we've laid a lot of groundwork: the three knights most often cited as being present at the end of the Grail quest are Galahad (duh), Perceval, and Bors. (I have yet to figure out who Bors is, but I suspect it's Monroe.) Moreover, Perceval's sister, sometimes named Dindrane, is the Grail heroine who leads the worthy knights to the magical ship that leads them to the castle that houses the Grail that Jack may or may not have built. Ahem. I'm not sure if Juliette, Rosalee, or some as-yet-unknown figure fulfills this role best yet, but if I had to place bets out of available female characters I would pick Rosalee, who has some significant ties to the Wesen underworld which we still (I would assume) don't know all about. Lastly, remember when I said Gawain had kids, and Le Bel Inconnu was often sourced for Perceval's legends? Well, Hank as Nick's mentor/older partner fits that particular variation on the legends pretty well while not actually giving Nick a father figure.

Out of the three, it's only Bors who survives the end of the quest and returns to tell the tale. On the plus side for our parallels, they're not exact and I'm quite certain they'll end up twisted around in all sorts of interesting ways by the time the writers get around to drawing the quest to a close. On the minus side, if they do run exact parallels and we're right, Nick and Renard are both biting it. And on the gripping hand, I can't see them doing it that way unless the show was officially ending, which will hopefully be a good several seasons.

I know I promised you guys a bit on the Fisher King, but I apologize. That turns out to be an entire other post, which Kitty will get written and posted sometime this weekend. And frankly, this thing is pushing 3.5K as it is; I'd prefer not to infodump the readership too much.

What I would dearly love to know is who Merlin, Morgan, and Vivien are. Or if we're going to end up with the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot triangle. (In which case I reserve the right to fling popcorn at the screen, because I HATE that damn plot and will have to be won over by writerly cleverness if they want to do it.) I kind of suspect there are two levels of parallels going on, though: the one we've just covered exhaustively where everyone fits into the greater Wesen political landscape, and the one in Portland that's a microcosm. In which case I suspect the answer to my first question is Renard, Catherine, Adalind, and I suppose that makes Nick Arthur, Hank either Lancelot or still Gawain, and Juliette Guinevere. Sort of. Maybe.

And you know the best part about this, from a writers' standpoint? The Grail Quest is traditionally filled with odds and ends of other things, looping around and around and focusing now on one knight, now on another. The basic structure of the old Grail epics is perfectly suited to episodic TV, and the nature of the quest is such that they can drag it out ad nauseum. One might even call it a Questing Beast.


  1. Mind is officially blown. Amazing.

    1. Thank you! I'm a little terrified to see what they're going to do with this and how much more anvilicious it'll get.

  2. I'm into this Arthurian trip. I'm not actually sure it's what they're doing, but I'm happy to enjoy this as a reading or a sort of academic-style AU (known off the internet as lit crit, I guess). Which I love! And maybe I'm wrong and this is EXACTLY what they're doing.

    Regardless! My Pendragon chops are a little rusty, but I don't think I buy Catherine as Morgan. She was too under control and too easily defeated. My first instinct was actually Kelly - she's mysterious, isolated, she had at least one sister, and while she's not a magician in the literal sense, she's initiated into the mysteries in a way that I think substitutes decently. It's ambiguous who's side she's on, much as it is with Morgan (depending on the version).

    THAT led me to another thought, which is just for fun because it wouldn't fit the Grail quest: What if Nick were Arthur? He's assembling a Round Table of sorts with Monroe, Rosalee, and now Hank; his tenuous relationship with Kelly would fit the version in which Arthur and Morgan are half-siblings; Arthur was raised in secret, away from his parents, with no knowledge of his true identity, just as Nick knew nothing of his role and responsibilities as a Grimm. I've always thought there was a case to be made for Nick as the ruler/keeper of this canton as well as Renard, especially because Renard's influence doesn't seem to be complete or assured. Think about what Nick tried to do with the Eisbiebers: that's not vigilantism, that's community organizing. It seems clear at this point that the relationship between Grimms and Wesen wasn't always as antagonistic as the show initially led us to believe, and Wiesenthal are consistently learning to trust Nick to look out for them. This has been pretty well defined as a period of chaos and unrest in the Families'/Wesen world, which would parallel the power vacuum that followed Uther's death prior to Arthur's surprise succession.

    Arthur ascended the throne by means of a magical object that responded to him and him alone (the sword in the stone), so I suppose in this reading the Magic MacGuffin might not be the Grail, per se, so much as a combination of it and the sword.

    This makes the Seven Families, or maybe the Verrat, the Saxons, and - WAIT FOR IT - I think it makes Renard Merlin. Think of the way he's watched and indirectly guided Nick from afar, much as Merlin did for Arthur before his ascendance.

    I KNOW, MADNESS, BUT SO MUCH FUN. Thanks for prompting me into this!

    1. AUGH AUTOCORRECT. Where it says Wiesenthal, read Wesen, kthx.

    2. Oh also, (CAN'T STOP), alternately, if Nco is Arthur then Monroe could be Merlin. But that's less fun.

    3. ...nah, if Nick is Arthur then Monroe is TOTALLY Sir Kay. Remember: Kay taunts everyone.

      (I will address the big long comment when I stop having head explodie.)

    4. They are really, really pushing on some kind of old myths and legends tropes, with all the historical stuff and fairy tales and so on.

      And I'm not 100% certain on the big overarching metaplot correspondences, but... something. Some of it really fits! Some of it's a little iffier, though you should check the Fisher King post Kitty just put up today, too. I'll admit to a certain amount of confirmation bias, because frankly I hate the love triangle crap of Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot (while we don't have a strong contender for Lancelot yet, he usually comes along later in the stories anyway).

      Now that you mention it, I will totally buy into Kelly as Morgan. And to a degree Lancelot. I think what we may have... hrr. It's hard to say for sure as yet, but we have this giant mish-mash of correspondences that are affected both by geography (Portland and the outside world) and by generation (Nick and his parents and Renard as this in-between figure, depending on how old he really is - I still wonder about him being immortal/slow-aging of some kind).

      So, yeah, I'll buy Nick as Arthur. Especially because Arthur's kind of a goober in the same way Nick is. And not only is Renard's control not complete or assured, most of the Wesen don't seem to even know he EXISTS. Which makes him a good Merlin candidate too. That said, I don't remember anything about purity of heart as it relates to Merlin, expect possibly that if he'd had more of it Vivien wouldn't have been able to entrap him as well as she did? (Catherine or Adalind - or both! - as Vivien I think I would buy.)

      ...wait a sec. Arthur didn't really want the Grail either. He just got it dumped in his lap as a quest for his knights. (Granted, Perceval gets it dumped in his lap just by way of being out for a jaunt on his way back home, so...) I'm not at all certain about your assertion that Nick-as-Arthur wouldn't fit the Grail quest. But we still have evidence both ways, especially with Nick's inability to ask the right goddamn questions.

      At any rate, we have a PILE of evidence pointing in at least two different directions for each character so far. Except probably Hank, who is so Gawain it hurts. I'll be fascinated to see if they uncomplicate the tangles this season, or just keep adding layers.