Monday, October 13, 2008


The Questing Beast, whose more physically descriptive French name is the "Beste Glatissant" or "the barking beast," has a leapard body, a serpent head, a lion's hindquarters, and rabbit's feet. A noise like the barking of a hound pack issues from its stomach. Usually pursued by Pellinore, the Questing Beast's collection of unlikely body parts links it to chaos and incest. Indeed, the beast is said to be the result of a woman's desire for her brother. When the brother rejected his sister's incestuous advances, the she made a bargain with the devil, who then murdered the brother and fathered the Questing Beast on her. (Note that, in this story, incestuous desire is felt solely by the woman.) Significantly, Arthur catches a glimpse of this beast shortly after his own incestuous encounter with his half-sister Morgause. And, similarly, many versions of the story maintain that Arthur was unaware Morgause was his sister, and responsibility for their sin is solely Morgause's. In this episode, the beast functions as a symbolic reminder that the unrest and disorder it represents will be a consequence of Arthur's incestuous lust.

However, in a few stories, the symbolic meaning of the Questing Beast is much more benign. For example, in T.H. White's The Once and Future King, the Questing Beast is actually a misunderstood creature. There is, in fact, no good reason for Pellinore to be hunting him, and the Pellinore's long search for the beast epitomizes all the meaningless knightly pursuits encouraged by a chivalry ungrounded in the "might makes right" purpose.

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