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Publisher's Summary

The greatest of all the medieval romances about the Holy Grail, Parzival was written in the early 13th century. The narrative describes the quest of the Arthurian knight Parzival for the Holy Grail. His journey is filled with incident, from tournaments and sieges to chivalrous deeds and displays of true love. The poem influenced several later works, most notably Richard Wagner’s opera of the same name and Umberto Eco’s Baudolino. The text used in this recording is Cyril Edwards’ modern prose translation.

Public Domain (P)2021 Naxos AudioBooks UK Ltd.

What listeners say about Parzival

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Before Hearing the Story, Read the Introduction

You'll find the entire introduction included in the print sample of Cyril Edwards’ translation on Amazon, and a good thing, too. Beyond tracing the development of the Arthurian tradition and placing Wolfram’s poem within that tradition, he offers a helpful roadmap through this rather tangled Germanic wildwood.

Given the date of authorship (1200-1210?), I expected something akin to Chretien de Troye's romances. But as Edwards observes, the French poet, “is, if you like, Romanesque, clean-lined and restrained, while Wolfram is exuberant and Gothic”. Even Wolfram’s contemporaries thought this one a bit much. Be that as it may, it is also extremely enjoyable.

As always with audiobooks, the narrator has a lot to do with that enjoyment. Leighton Pugh’s performance gets off to a rocky start, due either to a technical issue with the first few minutes of the recording or a hesitancy on Pugh’s part as he settles into the rhythm of Edwards’ prose. After that, everything runs smoothly.

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This one didn’t work for me

Eschenbach is a tough nut to crack at the best of times. He writes in a digressive, allusive style, and his syntax is reportedly knotty and obscure. Unfortunately Cyril Edwards’ translation is one that tries to capture some of the difficulty of Eschenbach’s style in English — at least so the translator himself says. The result is great for study, especially with the excellent notes and glossaries that fill the Oxford Worlds Classics edition in print. But it makes a poor choice for audio, which includes none of the accompanying reference material. I found it often incomprehensible, and as a last resort pulled out my OWC edition to try to follow along.

Even so, I found it tough going. Leighton Pugh is a wonderful narrator, and I have especially loved his readings of novels by Zola, but somehow he doesn’t click with this material. Ultimately I abandoned the audiobook and returned to my original introduction to the poem, the translation by Helen Mustard and Charles Passage. It’s an older one but feels newer. I don’t think it would work any better in audio, by the way — I think a successful version of Eschenbach in audio would require extensive adaptation and a little abridgement. The names in particular — aiyeee! Arthurian lore is filled with a varied cast, but Eschenbach’s German variations on French versions of British names sometimes results in a phantasmagoria of indecipherable alphabet soup. (At the very least, Naxos — my favorite publisher of classic audio literature in general — should have included the annotated List of People and Places that appears at the end of the OWC edition. This would have helped the unwary first-time listener keep Meljanz and Meljahkanz straight, and be able to tell Cunneware from Cundrie from Condwiramurs.)

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  • NICK
  • 11-09-21

Stamina Pays Off!

First of all, Leighton Pugh’s reading is a ‘tour-de-force’. He just keeps going, and never stumbles. The fantastic and wonderful names of kings and courtiers, the precious stones, the wondrous cloths which bedeck ladies and knights alike - all are fluently presented to us. He also “voices” the many characters supremely well.

The latter is so important: the cast of Parzival is very extensive, and readers need all the help they can get in identifying Who’s Who. It certainly does take stamina to see this Romance through to the end.

So why spend time listening or reading? For me, it is the sheer outlandishness of the society presented here. It’s rather like Science Fiction (in the same manner as “The Tale of the Genji”, it’s near-contemporary from Japan). Macho knights who will ride full-tilt and hell-for-leather at each other, with no reason other than to increase their fame. The fabulous lists mentioned above, and of course the ladies who this is largely all about. Courtly Love (though things do get physical, but only when the banns have been read, of course…). Science Fiction? Read about the lethal bed which runs amok on its whirring cogs ang wheels; and the magic column which shows images from MILES away! Very strange…

Here I must pause to express my admiration for the author, Wolfram Von Eschenbach: a more genial narrator I cannot imagine. The twinkle when he mentions “”The Ladies”, his contemporary references and knowing asides. These all help make “Parzival” real, and palatable as a story; which, after all has passed its seven hundredth anniversary.

Tastes change, and what seemed wondrous then may seem less-so now to our jaded-sophisticated preferences. Make no mistake, to listen to “Parzival” in its entirety is quite an undertaking. (I met the Romance as part of my degree course many moons ago; it was a vague acquaintance which seeded the desire in me to meet again). Having finished the course, so-to-speak, I realise that I will have to revisit again and again, in order to piece together the events and relationships which still elude me: one cannot merely flirt with this Romance; one must go for a lasting relationship!

Don’t be put off by the long opening sections, which are all about Gahmuret, Parzival’s father, nor by the much later lengthy divagation which concerns the adventures of Sir Gawain (Gawain): it does all come together in the end.

Ah, yes, and there’s the Grail and the Fisher King, familiar to a modern audience, at least by name; and the “Bildungsroman” element of Parzival himself who transforms from a callow youth into one of the most renowned knights in Christendom. ( He does, at last, manage to ask the right question - the import of which foxed me as a student, and still does - ). Christendom: one of the things I appreciate here is that the Xtian aspect of things is not laid on with a trowel, except in set- prices, as in the finale when Parzival’s long-lost, multi-colour half-brother is baptised and renounces his heathen ways (which qualifies him for the woman of his dreams). But that’s my bias.

So, my advice is to give it a go, if you like this sort of thing. If not, there’s Roger Lancelyn Greene’ s classic retelling of many Arthurian stories, which set me on the road of Chivalry!

P.S. Sorry there are no names here: I couldn’t begin to spell them without a text to hand. Enjoy!

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