Contemplating our need for heroes

The morning is perfect. I’m sitting at Penelope’s, inhaling the perfume of a chai latte while reading Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur.” I’m captivated by the mystic hero, whose exploits are so vast and absorbing that poets created mythologies defining their essence.

Heroes never die but sleep in the recesses of our mind waiting patiently for our call. We need them; they show us the way.

I have resurrected my fascination for King Arthur. He has survived 1,000 years, and his fable has proliferated the seven seas. Arthur remains a legend because he was hero.

Heroes show us what we can become. Where is Arthur when we need him most? Do we live in a world devoid of heroes? I don’t think so; I’ve known many. We just don’t know where to look.

There are many translations of “Le Morte d’Arthur.” I’ve chosen a very heady version. Much of the verse is written in Middle English, so I read each line with purposeful intent, weaving through Arthur’s heroic deeds and often pausing for a moment’s reflection and a sip of tea.

When we tell stories we transform reality. When things are too extraordinary to grasp we turn them into fairy tales, leaving them mysterious and beguiling. My favorite knight from the Arthurian Tales is Percival. I am enthralled by his story; it exemplifies how heroics beget heroics.

Percival was a prince of noble birth; his father was the warrior King Pellinore and his mother an eloquent queen. Pellinore was continuously warring throughout the Welsh countryside and was eventually killed in battle.

In the story, Percival’s mother, fearing her son would emulate his father, forsakes their royal linage and escapes into the forest to live secluded lives ignorant of war and the ways of men.

According to the tale, 15-year-old Percival is tending to his chores one morning when he sees blinding bright reflections approaching. He is mesmerized and wonders what he is seeing. The reflection comes closer and he begins to tremble. Suddenly he sees four men on huge white steeds, dressed in polished silver armor and carrying lances. Men adorned in colorful tunics carrying flags and banners lead the procession. As they approach, Percival kneels.

“Why dust thou kneel?,” they ask.

“Because you are gods,” Percival shouts.

One of the men says, “Rise boy…we are not gods…we are knights.”

Percival stands, stares into the eyes of the men and exclaims, “Then I want to be a knight!”

Percival’s mother is watching. As she hears her son proclaim his vocation to knighthood she begins to cry. She knows she will lose him.

Percival leaves his mother to seek an audience with King Arthur. “I want to be a knight,” he proclaims.

Captivated by Arthur and the knights, Percival pledges his undying devotion. That’s where his story begins, and one day I’ll tell it.

Motivated by Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Percival begins a hero’s journey. Joseph Campbell, in the “Power of the Myth,” explains that such a paradigm exists. Heroes beget heroes; they show us who we can become.

The Middle English verse had become much too dense; I closed my book and shut my eyes, savoring a few reflective thoughts. Maybe it’s our nature to be heroes. Do we need the great enthusiasm that befell Percival, Galahad and Tristan to define ourselves as heroic? Victor Hugo, in “Les Misérables,” tells us, “Life, misfortunes, isolation, abandonment, poverty are battlefields which have their heroes; obscure heroes, sometimes, greater than the illustrious heroes.”

I felt a presence and opened my eyes. It was Donner, the legendary trickster from the mysterious mountain biking clan called the Bunters, contemporary heroes, akin to Robin and his merry men. Was this a serendipitous encounter?

To be continued.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at doctorjoe@ymail.com.
 
 

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