Saturday, March 7, 2015

Retelling the Parsifal legend...

In a previous post, I asked, "What is Lafferty adopting and adapting and making new in Fourth Mansions? Is it a mashup of 50s sf esp with Arthurian defenders with a literalized metaphor of spiritual ascent?"

I latched onto the Arthurian angle, but mostly I'm aware of it as filtered down through Williams and Blaylock and Powers and others. It looks like my instinct was right. Well, tonight I've found at least one person who agrees; I've spent the past few weeks sorting through (and getting rid of many) boxes of sf paperbacks and dipped into Nebula Award Stories Six this evening, finding a wonderful essay on the year's nominated novels and stories.

Thomas D. Clareson:

Like Russ and Silverberg, R.A. Lafferty employs the idea of penetrating another’s mind in Fourth Mansions. In this instance a group indulges in “mind-weaving”--the amplifying and projecting of psychic power. They wish to induce a new human evolution, to cause their own mutation into supermen, so that man can attain a higher spiritual level. The old motif of alternate, co-existent worlds is introduced. But these merely give Lafferty a point of departure as he weaves a tapestry of symbolism that draws finally more upon myth than upon science to dramatize the eternal struggle between good and evil. The core of the story retells the Parsifal legend, that of the fool--the innocent one--who resists temptation, gains wisdom through suffering, and thus may assume guardianship of the Grail. Lafferty creates four groups: the mind-weavers misuse their science (their leader is a biologist); a group, long-lived if not immortal, evokes the sense of demons who intrude evilly into the affairs of men; a nascent dictator, protesting that he works for the good of man, would reduce them to automata if successful; and a preternatural Christian brotherhood plays the part of the Knights of the Grail. Lafferty employs an elaborate system of animal imagery to identify the groups and evokes a general feeling for medieval myth in particular. Withdraw any part of the tapestry and the work collapses. He has achieved a richly textured fantasy.
I now add Parsifal/Percival and the grail stories to the long list of works that Lafferty recycles for his own purposes. I'm eagerly anticipating the fruitful discussions that will occur when the scholars of various fields (ancient lit, medieval lit, geology, zoology, brewology, etc...) finally discover Lafferty and decide that they MUST submit essays to Feast of Laughter (or any of the other twelve Lafferty journals that exist in the future).

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