Study and Discussion Questions for A. A. Attanasio's The Serpent and the Grail
by Alvaro Nimiez
(reprinted with permission)
The story of King Arthur has been around for a thousand years and in many variations. Do you think the author is justified in creating yet another adaptation of this renowned legend?
The fourth volume of The Perilous Order of Camelot reveals that the narrator of this series is Rna, a clan woman 90,000-years-old and eldest of the Nine Queens of Avalon. Does her supernatural perspective make the narrator more reliable or less?
The narrator tells us midway through the novel, “You are this: the serpent and the grail—blue bunched bowels coiled hungrily in an upright pelvis, the overflowing cup of the sacrum, sacred vessel of bone that is our humanity.”
In what way is The Serpent and the Grail about our physical humanity? In what ways do the themes of carnal hunger and standing upright come together in this story?
In chapter 12, the Norse god Odin tells us what he thinks about the meaning of life when he is asked:
"Why must any of us live at all?"
The Furor nodded, satisfied. "I will tell you. You are a Roman woman, and you will not understand me. I will tell you anyway. We live so the stars can caress us. We live so that when we do perish the earth can receive us into her sweet home. Yes, the earth that you call dirt is holy, and she is sweet. Certainly, the world is cold, and we are its warmth. Who kindled this fire in us? Know that and you will understand why the animals share their wisdom with us: They curry our spirits during the hunt so that we may wear their skins proudly and eat their flesh with joy. Joy! Do you hear me? Joy. That is the location of life. Whatever happens, the one, simple truth of life remains always unchanged. All our troubles and all our pain are always pathways back to joy."
Is this a satisfying answer to why we live? Is joy ‘the location of life?’
Aquila Regalis Thor—Arthor—accepts the variant spelling of his name, Arthur, put forward by his enemy, King Wesc. The Saxon king had taken offense that the Aesir god Thor’s name had been identified with a foe of the Foederatus.
What does this tell us about the character of Arthur, that he willingly changes his name to avoid insulting his enemy? Is this act of renaming himself valorous—or a craven attempt to appease a fierce adversary?
Is the Christian faith respectfully presented in this series? What are your thoughts about the unorthodox representation of angels and demons as Fire Lords and Dark Dwellers in the House of Fog?
This series presents God as a female. How meaningful or gratutitous is that?
Do the scientific concepts in the series enhance the story or distract from the narrative?
The Serpent and the Grail concludes with a descriptive passage of Avalon that appeared earlier, in Chapter 6: “The Future from Small Things Grows:”
On high, verdant promontories, waterfalls fell in quicksilver threads that never reached the ground: These cascades blew away from craggy cliffs in wild vapors and broken rainbows, disappearing in the air like a story that brims into nothingness on a book's last page.
As the last line of this novel, the tense shifts into the present: Why?
In Chapter 21, the Norse god Loki comments on a biblical passage:
"’Lord, how long will the wicked, how long will the wicked triumph?' I will answer that Psalm's question for you Athanasius. So long as humans thrive."
Is Loki correct? Is evil an inherent part of human nature?
Attanasio and Athanasius are the same name at root. Is the author placing himself in this novel? If so, why? Is his presence as Athanasius meaningful or could this character have had a different name without affecting the story?
How does this fourth volume compare to the other three?
The Perilous Order of Camelot is set in Roman Britain, five hundred years before the usual depictions of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. In what ways does the historical accuracy of this fantasy series contribute to the legend?
Did any of these characters seem real? Or are they all mythic figures?
Would you like to see this series continued? Or do you consider these four volumes complete?
As this series concludes, the narrator on Avalon—Rna the Ice Age queen—asks: “Why did we create this spell, our retelling of King Arthur's long-ago story and our news from Avalon, except to summon you? … We need your help.”
What aid is the narrator requesting from you? Why does the author move the story off the page and into the reader’s life? Is this effective storytelling?
In an essay attached to The Eagle and the Sword, the second volume of this series, the author writes: “The Legend of Arthur is about violating boundaries. It is about sin and punishment: the lost Grail, mad Merlin, the wounded Fisher King, Arthur’s sister pregnant with his son, Guinevere and Lancelot’s adultery, and the flawed knights of the Perilous Order.”
How does hidden sickness and sin become sacred in this thousand-year-old legend?
The Yuma Fantasy Book Club traditionally concludes by asking featured authors, “Why do you write fantasy fiction?”A. A. Attanasio replies, “Fantasy writing stakes its own territory in the mind and then goes beyond the mind without forsaking thought, so it forces our hearts to think.”