I am writing a story-cycle called Goodly Company. It is centred on Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Gral family, Parzival and Condwiramus and their twin sons Loherangrin and Kardeiz.
Once upon a time there will be – no reason why a true story should not be told that way. The best stories are always told again. Which is not to say that history always repeats itself. … I have played with words, and in so doing I would like to think I have honoured them and indeed trusted them – all things considered, all proportions guarded.
Anthony Rudolf, Wine from two Glasses (King’s / Adam, 1991) pp 53-54.
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
And if all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
TS Eliot, Burnt Norton
It is a re-telling of myths and historical tales, from an idiosyncratic viewpoint and with scant regard for linear chronology (as hinted at in the quotes above and from Parsifal on the title page), for the literary conventions of domestic privacy or sexual orthodoxy.
Parzival’s tales are generally based on either von Eschenbach or Wagner, but with interesting alterations…. (for instance, the Tristan and Iseult story, from which Tristan, in the vital stages, is almost completely absent).
The boys’ stories are even less fixed in time – they explore various narratives about twins such as the Dioscuri and Romulus and Remus, and their infiltration into historical fiction (Richard I’s crusade), opera (Tannhäuser, Der Freischütz), or epics (The return from Troy, the Old Testament).
Why? When? Who?
This whole story cycle was sparked by a creative writing venture. As with all exercises of this sort, I am a sore disappointment – or unexpected treasure – for the leaders… In improvisation classes during my degrees (and one memorable one with, to my shame, the Royal Shakespeare Company) I start by doing the right thing – using the 2 minutes (or whatever) planning a character to be revealed in the impro-session, and as soon as the questions come, the carefully formed character goes out the window and in climbs a renegade. I recall, with horror, a simpleton who stabs his own hand with a hockey boot stud, a rugger player who expresses a wholly Herodian view of children… And so it was with Kardeiz, the forerunner of the rest of his family. He sprang, fully formed, into an angsty story about gender disguise and wish fulfilment, with his particular egocentric take on events. Declaring himself to be the son of Parzival the Gral-king, he had to be extracted from the story, where he was causing chaos and not a little animosity, and the creative writing venture, to inhabit his own world.
At the time I was reading von Eschenbach (although my intention had been to concentrate on Willehalm; somehow the Gral-family got in the way), and regularly attending events hosted by the Centre for Late Antique & Medieval Studies at King’s College London, so the writing became a synthesis of these various sources. Added to this my musical passion was – and is – the operas of Richard Wagner. I abandoned early writing based on the Volsungs and turned to the Gral father and son as my narrators. The Swan Knight was the first story written in full (but revised greatly in 2020), and at the same time I produced the Gawan and the Green Knight interlude. This was closely followed by the re-telling of Parzival’s own story, Monsalvat Get, based on von Eschenbach, with certain aspects of Wagner skewing the narrative.
Poor Parzival himself inhabits a world where his family call him by his medieval name, and the rest of the world refer to him as the title role in an opera…