User:Looney Toons/sandbox/Grail Quest

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“What is the grail? Whom does it serve?”


A Grail Quest is specialized version of The Quest which seamlessly blends the search for a MacGuffin with personal growth and tests of same for the Quester. The MacGuffin, whatever it is, has strict requirements for what constitutes a "worthy" owner/wielder; it, or Fate, or the Powers That Be, or the natural laws of the universe will conspire to force anyone looking for it to prove at length that he deserves access to it. Note that the object of a Grail Quest need not be a good or holy item; it's entirely possible that a malevolent object might present the same challenges to one seeking it, to ensure that they are strong or ruthless or sociopathic enough to use it "properly".

As the quester progresses along his path to the item he seeks, he will encounter a series of Sidequests and Wacky Wayside Tribes. Each one will embody some manner of literal, symbolic or metaphoric barrier to the completion of the quest, by presenting a challenge (sometimes obvious, sometimes hidden, and far too often deviously complex) that the quester must overcome. The challenges will range from simple acts of kindness to moral/ethical choices to feats of arms. Sometimes they will be outright surreal in nature, and sometimes they will force the quester to face seemingly Sadistic Choices. However they are presented, though, each one is an opportunity for personal growth or a test that the quester meets the MacGuffin's requirements. Success at each challenge confirms the seeker's worthiness and/or validates his his dedication to the quest. Failure can result in the quester being trapped (either blatantly or subtly), or being sent wildly off course to never come near his goal again, or even in his death. Truly dedicated seekers can sometimes redeem themselves and return to the correct path. Other questers may also rescue them, after which they might give up the quest entirely, or join forces back on the correct path.

From the outside, and sometimes from the inside, the quest may resemble a Random Events Plot -- but on a higher level everything all ties together. In some cases the object of the quest is actively grooming its recipients -- leading them through an adventure that will force them to become what it needs in a wielder/owner -- if they aren't killed or driven away by the difficulty of the tasks they face. Ultimately a Grail Quest is a transformative process for the quester, who must always progress from unworthy to worthy before reaching his goal. In many ways a Grail Quest is similar to a Vision Quest, and no few scholars have noted the similarities between the original Grail Quest and various pagan and shamanistic initiatory practices.

The Trope Namer is of course the Quest for the Holy Grail from the legends of King Arthur, most specifically the long and involved version presented in Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur.

Not to be confused with the series of Choose Your Own Adventure books entitled Grail Quest Solo Fantasy.

Examples of Looney Toons/sandbox/Grail Quest include:

Anime and Manga


  • Simultaneously invoked and parodied in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. King Arthur and his knights experience a typically Pythonian Random Events Plot on their quest to find the Grail, but amazingly, Arthur demonstrates his worthiness to pass the final barrier to the Grail castle with knowledge he gained in literally the first scene of the film.
  • John Boorman's 1981 film Excalibur presents a thoroughly-mystical Grail Quest strongly influenced by that found in Le Morte d'Arthur (see below).


  • As noted in the main text, the Quest for the Holy Grail in the legends of King Arthur. In Le Morte d'Arthur it spans hundreds of pages as the narrative follows the knights of the Round Table in their search for the Grail -- and their many and varied failures. The Grail demanded an almost unmeetable moral standard of the knights seeking it, and threw all manner of temptations in their way -- including the inevitable lures of the flesh, but also some where the knight was tempted to abandon the quest to take up another lesser, though noble, duty than finding the Grail. Ultimately, the Grail required a state of pre-eminent spiritual purity and focus that most of Arthur's knights could not achieve or maintain; ultimately only three qualified (Galahad, Percival and Lancelot).
  • The War Hound and the World's Pain, a 1981 novel by Michael Moorcock, revolves around a Grail Quest taking place during the Thirty Years' War. Mercenary freethinker Ulrich von Bek finds himself a damned soul in a castle owned by Lucifer, who bizarrely charges him with seeking the Grail, which will reconcile Lucifer with God and save von Bek's own soul. As might be expected, the quest tests von Bek almost to destruction.

Oral Tradition, Folklore, Myths and Legends

Visual Novels

  • Actively defied by the Holy Grail Wars in Fate/stay night and the other various Fate works. The Grail cares nothing about the Masters seeking it except that the winner has defeated all the others in what amounts to a brutal tournament. And while the best results are gained by killing all one's competition, it's not mandatory -- the Grail doesn't care about anything save that there is only a single winner standing at the end. Then again, it's hinted that it is not the true Grail, but an ersatz version created by mages in the distant past.

Other Media