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Percival (//), also spelled Perceval, is one of King Arthur's legendary Knights of the Round Table. In Welsh literature his story is allotted to the historical Peredur. He is most famous for his involvement in the quest for the Holy Grail.
Chrétien de Troyes wrote the first story of Perceval, le Conte du Graal. Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, and the now lost Perceval of Robert de Boron are other famous accounts of his adventures.
There are many versions of Perceval's birth. In Robert de Boron's account Saint Graal, he is of noble birth; his father is stated to be either Alain le Gros, King Pellinore or another worthy knight. His mother is usually unnamed but plays a significant role in the stories. His sister is the bearer of the Holy Grail; she is sometimes named Dindrane. In tales where he is Pellinore's son, his brothers are Sir Aglovale, Sir Lamorak and Sir Dornar, and by his father's affair with a peasant woman, he also has a half-brother named Sir Tor.
After the death of his father, Perceval's mother takes him to the forests where she raises him ignorant to the ways of men until the age of 15. Eventually, however, a group of knights passes through his wood, and Perceval is struck by their heroic bearing. Wanting to be a knight himself, the boy leaves home to travel to King Arthur's court. In some versions his mother faints in shock upon seeing her son leave. After proving his worthiness as a warrior, he is knighted and invited to join the Knights of the Round Table.
In the earliest story about him he is connected to the grail. In Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval, the Story of the Grail, he meets the crippled Fisher King and sees a grail, not yet identified as "holy", but he fails to ask a question that would have healed the injured king. Upon learning of his mistake he vows to find the Grail castle again and fulfill his quest but Chretien's story breaks off soon after, to be continued in a number of different ways by various authors.
In later accounts, the true Grail hero is Galahad, Lancelot's son. But though his role in the romances had been diminished, Percival remained a major character and was one of only two knights (the other was Sir Bors) who accompanied Galahad to the Grail castle and completed the quest with him.
In early versions, Perceval's sweetheart was Blanchefleur and he became the King of Carbonek after healing the Fisher King, but in later versions he was a virgin who died after achieving the Grail. In Wolfram's version, Perceval's son is Lohengrin, the Knight of the Swan.
In modern times his story has been used in such varied retellings as T. S. Eliot's modernist poem The Waste Land, Richard Wagner's opera Parsifal, John Boorman's Excalibur and the novel and film The Natural. The 1991 movie The Fisher King is, in ways, a modern retelling in which the parallels shift between characters, who themselves discuss the legend. Éric Rohmer's 1978 film Perceval le Gallois is an eccentrically staged interpretation of Chrétien de Troyes's original poem. Parsival or a Knight's Tale, by Richard Monaco, is a re-telling of the Percival legend. The book Parzival by Katherine Patterson is a retelling of the story.
On the BBC television series Merlin, Percival is a large, strong commoner. After helping to free Camelot from the occupation of Morgana, Morgause, and their immortal army (which is supplied by, ironically, a grail-like goblet called the Cup of Life), he is knighted along with Lancelot, Elyan and Gwaine, against the common practice that knights are only of noble birth. He is also one of the few Round Table knights to survive Arthur's death.
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