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“Every knight has a quest, and every quest has its reward.” So begins C. S. Johnson’s A Knight’s Quest for the Holy Grail, and I do love a good quest.
I also love a well-spun, life-affirming tale with original characters, and a well-constructed graphic novel.
Truth be told, I like graphic novels better than movie adaptations of books or stories because they tend to be more faithful to the dialogue of the book. Plus, I would rather see how a visual artist brings a character to life than how a particular actor looks as that character.
Naturally, when C. S. Johnson let me take a look at the graphic novel adaptation of A Knight’s Quest for the Holy Grail, featuring art by Fammy Purnama, I found several things to like about this charming and intelligent adventure. Three things in particular make it worth a read.
It is refreshing to read a truly original idea. From the meeting of Lance and Alexandra (a perfect scenario of bookworms and writers both) to the final reveal of the “dragon,” Johnson’s princess and knight adventure decidedly goes in different directions than the expected, and it remains on that path throughout. The familiar tale of the knight rescuing a princess from her “dragon” breaks away from all clichés. This includes the “witch,” “ogre,” and even the Holy Grail itself.
Sometimes monsters can dwell inside of someone in the form of depression, disappointment, or anxiety, and it is many times up to those who love them to help fight off the beast. What better showing of love than helping to keep that beast at bay.
I recognized the dragon myself towards the end, as much as I hate to admit it.
Artwork by Fammy Purnama from "A Knight's Quest for the Holy Grail." Copyright © 2018-2019, C. S. Johnson.
Purnama’s art gives us a smooth transition from prose to comic. If the art in a graphic novel retelling of a story doesn’t seem to fit the original intent of the author, it can throw off a reader's enjoyment of the story, no matter how close to the original prose the retelling it comes.
Purnama’s style is clean and attractive, and pleasantly adds to the tale rather than detract from it. As someone who has slogged her way through quite a few graphic novels, I appreciated the attention to both style and layout, particularly during the “transition” moment when Lance reaches the Holy Grail (but that’s a bit of a spoiler I won’t share).
Both parents and teens can enjoy it on the same level. There are many young adult books out there that are so geared towards "relating to teens" the dialogue and story seem patronizing and trite. There are also some stories trying so hard to make the characters empowered, and edgy, they just lack believability. This can be a turn off for teens, who are experts are cutting through baloney. As a parent, I appreciated the realness of the characters, even in a world seemingly filled with magical creatures.
My 17-year-old daughter, Molly, enjoyed the story as well, and she shared with me her thoughts on it:
I found the book to be a very good story and a lot of fun, but it still managed to have a serious undertone in the plot. The transition into a graphic novel was good and easy to understand. If you wanted to read it like a normal book you could, but if you decided that graphic novels are more your style, then you could read it like that. I can’t wait to read more of these tales.
Being able to enjoy a graphic novel retelling that gives you a solid feel for the story, doesn’t talk down to the reader, and offers a non-preachy life lesson of the meaning of love and devotion for anyone who reads it is a rare find.
Discovering a new book is always a wonderful thing, but Johnson’s A Knight’s Quest for the Holy Grail is more than just a pretty package. It is a gift to read.
As Johnson herself states in the opening pages of the book itself: “It’s not always the quest for the cup. Sometimes it’s the quest for what’s in the cup.”
Header artwork by Fammy Purnama. Copyright © 2018-2019 C. S. Johnson.