Mary de France: it is a name which appears at the end of a collection of stories called The Fables. She says that she is from France, thus signaling that she was writing outside of France. Her writings in The Fables may have been inspired by Aesop’s fables. Additionally, she wrote the twelve lais, which were poetic narratives. It is understood that Mary de France was a highly educated woman whose audience was cosmopolitan in composition.
As the twelve lais that she wrote, two are overtly Arthurian. ‘The Honeysuckle’ and ‘Lon Voul.’ (The honeysuckle features a heavy intrusion of another story independent of the Arthurian aspect called ‘Tristin and Isolde.’)
In ‘Lon Voul,’ King Arthur is a facilitator instead of a principal actor. The story is about a knight who, after whining and pouting, runs off into the forest whereupon he meets a beautiful fairy who agrees to be with him if he can keep their relationship a secret. He agrees but is forced to reveal the nature of his relationship when Queen Guinevere attempts to seduce him. What transpires next is a series of encounters with fairies in a tense courtly setting before the fairy herself emerges who rides off with the knight to Avalon, never to be seen again.
Mary’s ethos in these stories is one of luxury and love found outside of marriage; knightly ability, the magical, the exotic, and the noble feature as supporting roles.
Because of the incomplete nature of Chretien de Tray’s Arthurian Romances, they fired the imagination of the medieval public and everyone seemingly had a conclusion or alteration of their own to add. Some researchers have called this period of experimentation as an “industry industry.” After Chretien, the grail story will start to morph in the French tradition. It will go from a magical serving dish to a holy vessel, and then into the Holy Grail. Eventually, and due in part to the nature of the French “interlaced” texts, each newcomer adds new content regarding Arthur’s knights and what happens is an explosion of content, bloating the legend and transforming it.
One major preoccupation in the Perceval texts, for instance, is genealogy and the attempt to reconcile the religious and the secular.
Sometimes after the year 1200, Robert de Bon, a French writer from Burgundy, composes Arthurian texts which heavily feature the Holy Grail. These texts are: “The Joseph ta Emeth,” “The Mackland,” and a third text which is simply called [the Perceval text] among its many names.
Before we can proceed, however, we have to understand an idea called ‘Transfer of Rule.’ Essentially, this means that it is a history unbroken and passed down from king to king, from East to West. It is used in Monmouth’s history when he traces England’s history to foundational historic events, thus providing England with a sense of purpose and status. In effect, Robert does this for the religious aspects of the Grail stories by associating it with Christ’s blood and Joseph bringing the cup into the West.
In short, Joseph is instructed by angels to build a second table, one which is in the image from the table from the last supper. It is said that the table’s Trinitarian promises will be fulfilled upon the building of a third table, i.e., the Roundtable. Robert, however, also builds on Merlin, who obtains his magical powers from his mother in-womb after she is raped by a demon; though he obtained his powers from the devil, he is able to retain them by fighting for Christianity. However, Robert ignores Gawain’s elements from Chretien’s original text and writes Perceval as triumphant while concluding the story, thus re-writing the openly ended defeat of the original Fisher king plot.
As a writer, however, Robert’s octosyllabic style was considered poor. People were more interested in Robert’s stories—their plots and narratives—more than in his actual style. Robert was important for so-called ‘gisters,’ or people who made texts more accessible to the mass public by giving people the ‘gist’ of the story.