Waste Land Desert, Deserted Land, Land Laid Waste, Strange Land, Terre Gaste, Terre Gastee
Also known as the Strange Land, the Waste Land was the kingdom destroyed in holy retribution for the Dolorous Stroke (or, in one version, for Perceval’s failure to ask the Grail Question). To those stories that include it, it is identical to the Grail Kingdom, sometimes called Listeonis. The Vulgate Estoire del Saint Graal says that it also included Wales. (The country of Dyfed in Wales, interestingly, is laid waste by an enchantment under different circumstances in the early non-Arthurian tale of Manawydan.) In the Didot-Perceval, the Waste Land encompasses all of Great Britain. The Waste Land’s ruler was the Grail King or Fisher King.
The Waste Land is first found in the First Continuation of Chrétien’s Perceval, where the sickness of the land is linked to the illness and infertility of the Maimed King. (This link forms the most cogent argument of scholars who propose an agrarian ritual origin for the Grail legend.) The Waste Land resulted from use, in combat, of the Grail Sword. Neither the land nor the king could be healed until some knight asked the Fisher King to explain the marvels of the Grail. After Perceval failed to ask the question during his visit to the Fisher King’s castle, Gawain partially healed the land and king by inquiring about the Bleeding Lance. The theme of a land under a spell which a question will undo is pervasive in fairy tales and folklore, and the idea that the health of the land and the ruler were one is common in Celtic folktale. We find a particularly relevant example in the Welsh story of Branwen, in which Bran, King of Britain, is wounded in the foot by a poisoned spear during an expedition to Ireland. As a result, Britain falls waste. Bran has been viewed by many as the progenitor of the Fisher King.
In the Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal, Perceval’s aunt is called the “Queen of the Waste Land” (see her entry below). She instructs Perceval during the Grail Quest. Malory names her as one of the four queens who takes Arthur’s body from the battlefield of Salisbury to the island of Avalon. A “Knight of the Waste Land” is defeated by Arthur in Le Chevalier du Papegau.
Waste Land Land Laid Waste, Terre Desert, Terre Gaste
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