This is Roger Scruton’s final book. Parsifal was Wagner’s final opera. Both works are intended to be taken as Last Words: testaments of belief at the end of a long spiritual journey. In the introduction, Scruton identifies the enduring problem in his life, and ours, as: ‘How to live in right relation with others, even if there is no God.’ He gives us his answer:
Whether or not there is a God, there is this hallowed path towards a kind of salvation, the path that Wagner described as ‘godliness’, the path taken by Parsifal, and it is a path open to us all.
The path of our salvation, then, can be seen in the opera.
Parsifal is a retelling of the Grail legend. The plot in brief: King Amfortas is the guardian of the Holy Grail and the spear which pierced Christ on the cross. The evil magician Klingsor covets the power invested in the holy relics. He sends Kundry to seduce Amfortas and while that’s going on, Klingsor steals the sacred spear and stabs Amfortas. The wound never stops bleeding. It can only be healed by a holy fool. Enter Parsifal (Sir Percival in the Arthurian version). He’s a huntin’, shootin’ sort of chap (as Scruton was himself) and makes his entrance taking a pop at a swan.
Taught the error of his ways, he is wakened to the possibility of compassion towards innocent animals and fellow men. Klingsor sends Kundry and a whole garden of flower maidens to seduce Parsifal, who remains chaste. Miraculously catching the holy spear that Klingsor hurls at him, Parsifal touches Amfortas’s sacred wound with it. Christ’s spear resumes its role as the redemptive instrument.