Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Contemplating heroes, Part 2

Donner joined me for a cup of tea. I welcomed the company as a respite from a dreary morning.

“What are you reading?” he asked.

“Stories about King Arthur,” I said.

“Tell me one!”

I told him about Percival, the peasant boy who was, unbeknownst to him, a prince, one who became one of the greatest knights.

In last week’s column, I left Percival at a critical moment. He had just proclaimed his undying devotion to knighthood. However, his mother witnessed the whole scene.

“Mother! I’m going to the Court of King Arthur to become a knight.”

It was a dagger through her heart. She had lost her husband in battle. Would she lose her son as well?

She had a plan. She dressed Percival as a clown, thinking that Arthur and the knights would believe he was merely the court jester and not take him seriously, laugh him all the way home.

Percival travels to Camelot and forces himself into King Arthur’s court. His enthusiasm is uncontrollable as he bounds around the table dressed in fool’s clothes, exclaiming, “I want to be a knight!” Arthur and all the great knights are hysterically amused. Their laughter however, does not daunt Percival’s insistence of his devotion to knighthood.

Meanwhile, Arthur’s trusted confidant, Merlin, a wizard, isn’t laughing. Curious, he fixates on Percival’s antics. He stares at Arthur with a grimace. He pokes him in the ribs and says, “Great King, this boy is not here for mere tricks!”

On the insistence of Merlin, Arthur takes note and decides to give Percival a series of Herculean challenges. Subsequently, Percival writes his heroics, which show up in Sir Thomas Malory’s 1485 collection of stories about Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, “Le Morte d’Arthur.”

“So what happened?” Donner asks.

I reply, “That’s just the beginning of the story!”

Percival’s story enthralled Donner. I told him that whatever speaks to you in the story is present within you. “You and your Bunter bicycling buddies are the contemporary Knights of the Round Table,” I said.

Donner looked confused.

“We’re mountain bikers,” he said.

“Yes, but mountain biking is incidental to what you Bunters share.”

I told Donner about “Iron John,” by Robert Bly, a book about men, their needs, their idiosyncratic devotions, rituals, how they self-actualize, and the detriment of their feminization by contemporary society. Stories of King Arthur and Jedi knights have an appeal rooted in that which is instinctual in all men: camaraderie, challenge and adventure.

The Bunters share a passion for mountain biking. They gather in early morning and are pulled upward by some innate force, reaching heights above our gaze. Their paths are marred by chasms and the perplexities of the tenuous path. The Bunters are actualized by camaraderie and the challenge of the darkened precipitous trail. Their aliases define their mystery: Captain, Lieutenant, Donner, Navigator, Tinkerbelle, Crash, Brave Heart, Cave Man, Nitro, Scar, ER, Sherpa, Happy and Porn Star.

In “Of Wolves and Men,” Barry Lopez expresses that males are genetically linked to hunters, explorers and warriors whose earliest inclinations are defined by challenge, adventure and living on the brink. Percival’s story is defined by philosopher/mythologist Joseph Campbell as the hero’s journey. Percival conjoins with Galahad sharing the dangers of the journey traveling throughout Europe seeking the Holy Grail. Like-spirited men find their strength in each other and are driven by the camaraderie they share.

That’s the connection between the Bunters and King Arthurs’ Court.

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

Copyright © 2019, La Cañada Valley Sun
EDITION: California | U.S. & World