The Grail Code 
Harry Potter: no Grail, but plenty of quest

The last Harry Potter book had surprises for just about everyone. I won’t give anything away, except to say that there’s no Holy Grail per se, but there’s quite a lot of quest. In fact, you might find more than one parallel with the famous quest for the Holy Grail.

The quest is one of the favorite themes in literature, and doubtless always will be. Take one brave but human hero and one or more magically desirable objects, and then place an assortment of almost insuperable evils between them, and you’ve got a proper quest. The basic plot doesn’t change, because it doesn’t need to change. As it stands, the quest plot not only is susceptible to infinite variation, but also comes pre-loaded with a rich assortment of metaphorical and symbolic possibilities. The quest can be a metaphor for the course of our whole lives, or for any particular endeavor, or for both at once. For all of us, life is a journey toward the ultimately desirable goal, with a minefield of misfortunes and evils standing in our way. Whether it’s Lord Voldemort or the Department of Motor Vehicles, we have to face the evil of the moment and overcome it before we can be on our way.

A long wait to renew one’s driver’s license doesn’t quite have the appeal in the retelling that, say, the quest for the Golden Fleece has. Now, if I had the choice, I’d much rather stand in line at the DMV than battle a bunch of Ray Harryhausen monsters. But I’d rather hear stories about the monsters than about the DMV. (“And then when I finally got all the way to the front, they told me I was in the wrong line!”) I can’t explain that peculiar perversity of my nature, but I probably don’t have to explain it. I’m sure you share it.

Yet the monsters and the indifferent or hostile clerks differ more in degree than in kind. Courage, persistence, patience, and determination will serve you as well at the DMV as they will against creatures of stop-motion animation. To put it another way, we can learn lessons from our favorite stories (not least Harry Potter) that help us find the right path on our own quests. That, after all, is what allegory is all about.

Meanwhile, a suggestion: if you’ve finished the seven Harry Potter books and need something else to read, why not introduce yourself to the stories of the Holy Grail? You’ll find most of the same ingredients you loved in Harry Potter, but you might find an even deeper and more satisfying meaning. Here’s a good place to start in your new quest.

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