Toward The Unknown Shore

Featured Image: James Archer, Death of King Arthur, 1860. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

For generations your people told stories of their impending demise. Prophets predicted Antichrists; scientists tracked asteroids; writers warned of atom bombs. Your people knew the fate of every empire in a universe sliding toward entropy. Most put the issue aside. Monthly bills hung heavier above their heads than targeted missiles or wayward meteors. Those who worried overmuch could always find distractions. Those who hated your island and their lives could dream of great cleansings to come and take what pleasure they could in the imaginary suffering of their foes. A few of us shared your affliction. They could not look away from their doom.

The fears we swallow steer us as strongly, if less surely, than those we face. Many on your island came to think they might be freed of history by erasing it, that they might be freed of sin by excising the knowledge of good and evil. Others shrugged and withdrew from a hopeless struggle to make the best of what days remained to them. A few went to dusty libraries in search of unremembered knowledge. We knew the Shadow which inched closer every day had fallen before. We thought perhaps in the old records they might find some clue how our ancestors drove it back.

We found an old story which has parallels in many even older stories, the tale of a man-god born of a virgin and resurrected from the dead. This story that came down to us is a third-hand telling, transcribed by people who spoke to people who claimed they were close followers of this man-god before his death and that they had seen him in the flesh after his gory demise. It is supplemented by the chronicles of a small community of herders and merchants trapped between empires, and by letters from the cult’s earliest adherents. This may not seem relevant to your plight. Most on the island already know that story as well as they know the lives of their favorite celebrities. But our ancestors held it in high esteem and so we thought it worth closer examination.

We also found the tale of a land restored by a sacred cup. This legend was retold by Thomas Malory, T.H. White, Richard Wagner, and many others whose names we have forgotten. Even more than the first story, this one varies wildly in the telling. Authors disagree as to the geography and characters, giving us very different accounts of where the Grail is kept, where it originated, and even what it looks like. They are united in proclaiming that there is a Grail, and in stating that much is expected of the one who might find it. We cannot tell you where your Quest will take you or if you will succeed. Most do not. But we can tell you what it means to be a Knight.

And of course you probably know the story of the Dark Lord and his Ring. Everybody has heard that one by now. Many can’t understand the attraction. There are more exciting tales out there, certainly bloodier and sexier ones. But yet people on the island can’t stop dreaming of Middle Earth. The Masters of Entertainment don’t care why they buy tickets, of course: so long as the money keeps coming in they’re happy as dwarves mining mithril. Those of us who have investigated the subject further have reached different conclusions. We’ve come to think that Tolkien was great for the same reason as that Pickman fellow who used to exhibit his paintings in Rhode Island. Like Pickman, Tolkien drew his images from life.

Most of our “wisdom” will quickly be dismissed as foolishness. You have been told our island floats in a vast emptiness and those lights which sparkle in our night sky are just icy rocks and flaming balls of gas. Our ancestors spoke of a Creator Who hung those lanterns and Who permeates every centimeter of that great Void. Your teachers told you the universe is so large it cannot have been created. We have looked out at those expanses and have seen what can only be a great Creation. Where you have been told there are only blind mechanical forces we have seen a divine Purpose. And where they have a thousand meaningless identities to choose from, we have the Truth of who you really are.

It’s a Fool’s Quest we offer. Any Quest worthy of the name is only for fools. Intelligent people can’t be bothered with dragon hunts. We do not know whither the Cup lies or what monsters guard it. We have not found the Ring nor do we know the way to Mount Doom. All we have is the Cross. I cannot promise you victory. Some have triumphed under the Cross, but many more have been martyred beneath it. Following this Cross may mean losing your friends, your family, your career, even your life. It will certainly mean losing yourself. We fight against overwhelming odds. We are outmatched in numbers and strength. But as Tolkien reminds us, even the small and weak can sometimes triumph where the mighty would fail.

Our Company is forming. The pay is lousy, the hours long and the final reward uncertain. We have neither swords, armor nor horses. All we have is the knowledge of Good and Evil and the certainty that we stand against Evil. You carry that knowledge in your heart and you have felt that great spreading Shadow. You doubt our cause as we doubt it: that is only to be expected. Though chroniclers were largely silent on the issue, the Grail Knights spent a great deal of their journeys lamenting their itchy armor and wondering why they ever agreed to wander about for a magic chalice. Our story has yet to be told. It may end in triumph or martyrdom. But it can only begin with a fumbling leap toward a pale reflection of someone else’s dimly-seen glimpse of the Light.

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