Monday, September 21, 2009

It came like a feather on the wind...

Photo by Jim Champion
Towards the end of the movie Forrest Gump, Forrest is talking to Jenny's grave and he says: "I don't know if Mama was right or if it's Lieutenant Dan. I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze..."

I had completely forgotten about the feather that arrives on the wind in the opening scene of the movie and how it takes to the wind once again as the film draws to a close.

Up until a short time ago, when I thought about Forrest Gump, I remembered the smiley face on the T-shirt when he was running across the country and how he got rich with an investment in that fruit company. I remembered that Forrest served in Vietnam while Jenny became a hippy and protested the war. And then there was Elvis, John Lennon, and medals and mishaps with Presidents from JFK through Ronald Reagan. I had only seen the movie and not read the book.

Since I've been focusing on details in The Story of the Grail, I've become more observant of patterns of words that appeared on its pages and my observations frequently journey beyond the medieval tale looking for traces of it in modern day life. When I started identifying the real life details woven through the imaginary tale, the first thought that came to me was "this is just like Forrest Gump!" And for a period of time, I thought that was where the similarities ended. But its funny what happens when a person starts working through details in their mind and all of a sudden other pieces of a memory begin to find their way back and fall into place.

More recently I remembered how Forrest used to preface bits of wisdom with "Mama always says...." and it dawned on me that Perceval used to say "I was taught that by my mother...." In truth, Perceval was told to quit prefacing what he said with that statement—and to stop talking so much—which greatly influenced him at the Fisher King's manor house and was why he never asked the proper questions about the bleeding lance or the grail. Forrest Gump and Perceval are both considered to be lacking in intelligence while being largely successful at everything they attempt—except knowing how to love a maiden.

When I mentioned the similarities of the two stories to my son in a conversation that just so happened to include the significance of the oak tree in The Story of the Grail, he recalled that the oak tree had a special meaning to Forrest Gump but he couldn't name what it was. Everybody sees stories from slightly different angles; for those in Forrest Gump's audience, the mentioning of events from the past 30 years didn't have the same affect on someone born in the 1980' he grasped onto other details of the story to remember it by. More importantly, I had a sudden insight that suggested I needed to become more intimately acquainted with both the novel and the film.

Novels and their screen adaptations tend to differ and the two versions of Forrest Gump are no exception. In fact, the movie is very different from the novel. But what I see is a mirrored reflection between the two—in a Chrétien de Troyes' kind of way—that provides a greater depth to its meaning. In the opening chapter of the novel we learn that Forrest's mama is a real fine person, his daddy died shortly after he was born, and mama keeps him inside a lot, separate from the outside world. When Forrest is sixteen, the high school football coach drives by and stops to ask him if he's ever played the game and Forrest just shakes his head because he isn't good at conversation. It's a scene that is very similar to Perceval's first encounter with King Arthur. In fact most every scene in The Story of the Grail can be found within the novel of Forrest Gump, though not the movie. But where The Story of the Grail is compiled of layers of stories held in place with shared details, Forrest Gump only portrays the face value exploits of the imaginary knights.

As the screen adaptation of Forrest Gump begins, the first thing Forrest says is, "My name is Forrest Gump." Then he shares the wisdom passed on to him by his mama before he begins telling his whole life story to everyone that takes a seat at the bus stop. Forrest shares the moment he first set eyes on Jenny; she was like an angel. And they used to spend their time swinging like monkeys on the branches of an old oak tree. When Jenny dies at the end of the movie, Forrest buries her beneath the oak tree.

In reality, there's just one story that makes up the legend of the grail, but there are five books that help us discover its meaning. Forrest Gump is one of the them. What I've learned is that there are characteristics that every authentic story belonging to this legend shares. Each one raises at least one comment or a question and then leaves it unanswered for the audience to contemplate. You can consider this characteristic a tribute to a book that Abelard wrote called Sic et Non which was condemned because it raised questions and required the reader to apply their intellectual abilities and discover their own knowing versus accepting another person's opinion or belief.

Another characteristic of authentic stories of the legend is that each is bound to the others by threads that weave from one book to another. The underlying mystery is where these threads come from. Creativity for writers comes with inspiration. But what's the source? Forrest Gump was the first book in eight hundred years that is an authentic story belonging to the original legend of the grail. Understanding how the novel relates to the medieval story is an exercise that helps us understand how to find the answer to the question about the bleeding lance.

In The Story of the Grail, Mother said that one should never be in another's company for very long before asking them their name...but at the end of the tale, Gawain asked the queen not to seek his identity for one week. We can take this as a hint. It takes a few days for the mind to organize all the details so they can be retrieved and sorted and looked upon from different vantage points. It's like looking back on something that happened a few days earlier and imagining how things should have been, could have been, would have been, if only.... This time, if we wait until all the details of the five books are gathered and allow them to rest in our minds for a bit of time, I suspect the answer to the question about the lance is destined to come to each of us.

More to follow on Forrest Gump...

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