What does the world of Goodly Company look like?

My time-frame is von Eschenbach’s Parzival – old high German medievalism, so the physical descriptions of life in all of Goodly Company are based in post-Carolingian medievalism, with rough edges. However, I always imagine the king-shall-we-call-him-Arthur to come into existence just after the Roman occupation of Britain, and so I name the towns and cities with their Roman names, and the roads my characters travel in Britain and Francia are the Roman ones, and the remains of the Roman baths are frequented by (the cleaner) Chosen Men.

The Merovingian Long-Haired kings are clearly deposed, but there is no Charlemagne ruling Francia, just the imaginary Elizabeth I look-alike, Ampflise. Pope Zachary (ruled 741-752) certainly colluded in the deposition of the Merovingian kings in favour of the family that was to produce Charlemagne, and little is known about his early life. I doubt, however, that he was ever abbot of a monastery in the Pyrenees, as he is in Monsalvat Get.

The fighting men

St Demitrius
St Demitrius:
image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

Artus’s Chosen Men wear mail rather than plate armour – so roughly 12th century. The joust is necessary training for the heavy cavalry which was the backbone of Artus’s fighting force but is clearly a sport (hence Parzival’s acrobatics on the quintain – of which most of the Chosen Men disapprove). Meanwhile the inhabitants of Monsalvat dress formally in Byzantine finery (lorus and all) and Gral knights would think nothing of appearing in the gorgeous apparel of a Byzantine warrior-saint (as illustrated).

Parzival probably has armaments from many periods hidden away in his study cupboards, but is careful not to upset propriety of time and space, although hopefully he does give his sons some sort of appropriate training before sending them to Ancient Greece and the founding of Rome. Kardeiz and Loherangrin affect brigandine jackets in some of their travels – refinements of the coat of plates which survived the transition from mail to plate – and more recognisable to the 15th century combatant. Kardeiz points out that people were more interesting at looking at his magnificent body than at the clothes he was wearing, so he was allowed a little license. Parzival himself displays a fine disregard of conventional expectations of appropriate clothing.

Monsalvat has a tradition of horse breeding. There are echoes of the Roman horse breeding traditions that were preserved by the Merovingians and Parzival, who welcomes excellent horseflesh, is influenced, perhaps, by his knowledge of the companion cavalry of Phillip II and Alexander III of Macedon. Historians dispute the sizes of medieval horses, but I have taken the view that a standard Monsalvat grey is generally the size of a modern Shire horse and naturally aggressive. No wonder the appearance of a Gral knight on his stallion was a fearsome sight.

Mind-pictures

As a mac-user and graphic designer, I see pictures before words, and have to have source personae for my characters, location maps and memories of places I’ve seen.

The location page should guide the unwary through the imaginary and concrete but I’ll start with a note about the appearance of some of my characters.

Von Eschenbach himself (the adult version you will meet in The Swan Knight), is based, although he may not recognise it, on Roy Wisbey, in his time as director for the Centre for Late Antique & Medieval Studies  at King’s College London. Wolfie’s courtesy and curiosity come from Roy (although probably not the wiggling eyebrows), and his lecture series for CLAMS informed at lot of the early writing of Kardeiz’s tales. Sound-wise, he will sound exactly like Christian Gerhaher, the perfect operatic von Eschenbach. The young Wolfie is not based on anyone, living or dead…

Other images along the way: Gawan is just about any character played by Brian Blessed, but probably looks more like Bernd Weikl in 1980s, Jenny is a young Jennifer Jason Leigh, Artus is Nigel Terry à la Excalibur. The twins’ stories include Malik Rik – a Blade-runner era Rutger Hauer, Jason-Diomedes – John Hurt as Caligula from the Beeb’s I Clavdivs series (oh, this is beginning to date me). 

The Gral family were both easier & more difficult. Helen Mirren (who else?) inspired Condwiramus, Marcus Waring (yes, the chef – look at his eyes) – Anfortas, Gurnemanz – Matti Salminen (a part I’ve seen him play in a circus tent). Two characters have bitter-sweet aspects in this nomenclature: Frimutel – Dave Bryant, folk singer and raconteur, who died of cancer some years ago; Parzival himself is an early ‘80s Peter Hofmann (opera and rock star, later incapacitated with Parkinsons and now deceased). The young Jonas Kaufmann bears a fleeting reminder of ‘Deiz and Lowen. Anja Harteros supplies the scary sexiness of Herzeloyde. Elza, feisty Elza, is inspired by Lise Davidsen, newly on the Wagnerian scene.