Knights, Romans, and the Glorious Quest

At the heart of all great stories there is a quest… a long and difficult journey of discovery. At least that’s what the famous Hollywood scriptwriting instructor, Robert McKee, tells us. All heroes must set off on an adventure to find something fabulous and in the process discover what is great and noble in themselves.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the most famous of all quests, The Quest for the Holy Grail. There’s the classic literary version in which King Arthur’s Knights set out to find the cup Jesus supposedly drank from at that last supper, a cup that will bring times of plenty, peace, and happiness to all of England. And then there’s the equally famous Monty Python film version, that introduces Arthurs knights as they sing:

We’re Knights of the Round Table

We dance when e’ er we’re able.

We do routines and chorus scenes

With footwork impec-cable

We dine well here in Camelot

We eat ham and jam and Spam a lot.

Etc.

Several years before the Python retelling of the Grail Quest, when I was in the 7th grade, I wrote my first novel on the same subject, a twenty pager called THE QUEST FOR THE HOLY GRAIL. It didn’t have any musical numbers, but it did have full color illustrations… by ME. Sister Marie saw it, said she’d like to help get it published, and asked me to give it to her. I watched my novel sit, gathering dust in the corner of her desk for the rest of the school year. On the last day of school I reclaimed it, telling Sister Marie that it needed more work. She seemed very relived and was happy to return it, proving once and for all that nuns make terrible literary agents.

In high school Latin class, I was fascinated by another quest. Aeneas, the last royal survivor of the fall of Troy, set out to discover a new home for his people and ended up founding Rome. I enjoyed the Aeneid so much that I spent the summer of my Junior Year doing a rhyming translation of my favorite part (where Aeneas describes the fall of Troy to Queen Dido who is really just out to seduce him). My old Latin teacher was so impressed that he kept a copy and read it to subsequent classes, earning me the undying dislike of all those students who came after me and had to listen to my rhymes.

After all this, you can imagine how I felt when my writing partner, John Pesqueira, suggested that our next novel be about a quest. He noted that the Spanish conquistadors led great adventures that were long and deadly and difficult… in search of great rewards that probably never existed. The greatest of these Spanish Quests in American was to find Cíbola the home of the Seven Cities Of Gold. Esteban Dorantes, an African slave who had become very good at dealing with the Native Americans, led the search for the great golden land.

Some say the Indians finally killed Esteban; others say he became a member of one Indian tribe in order to escape the Spanish and slavery. A few have even suggested that Esteban actually found the cities and lived a long and happy life there. The question John and I asked ourselves was, what if that last possibility was true. What if Esteban not only found the Golden Cities but then returned as a ghost to tell his twenty-first-century grandson how to find them. Would anyone believe him? Could he find a companion to go along for the ride? What obstacles might he encounter when the forces standing in his way were mythical, modern, and even demonic? And what about Dido, could she cross over from that Roman epic and once again try to seduce a brave young man sent on a noble mission?

We answer all these questions in our novel Esteban’s Quest, available at Amazon.

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