The Arthurian romances of Chretien de Troyes are perhaps the best examples of bad medieval literature. Nonetheless, the story of Erec and Enide ambushed my heart with its conclusion. Erec progresses through the story defeating giants and vanquishing one knight after another. His last adventure, one never completed by any knight, is called “the Joy of the Court”. Erec has no idea what the joy is, but he cannot refuse the adventure despite the pleading of his beautiful wife.
As Erec makes his way through an Edenic garden, he passes a row of sharpened stakes topped with the heads of the knights who had failed to gain “the Joy.” On the last stake is nothing but a huntsman’s horn. A knight in crimson armor steps forward as the guardian of the “Joy of the Court”. After he defeats this knight, Erec asks the knight to tell him exactly what the Joy of the Court is. The knight explains that he was imprisoned by a pledge to his lady that he would never leave this paradise until he was defeated. He says that when Erec blows the horn, he will be free.
I was disappointed. All this struggle to set someone else free from a stupid promise? But Erec dutifully blows the horn. Immediately the whole kingdom comes running, rejoicing, and singing. The ladies, we are told, compose a song called “The Lay of Joy”. The huge crowd surrounds Erec “striving to show their joy at the urging of their hearts.” They party for three days.
Hmmm. Up to the last adventure, everything had been about Erec winning renown, being honored, gaining riches. But his greatest adventure, “The Joy of the Court,” is all about everyone else being happy. After this adventure, Erec and Enide are made a king and queen by Arthur.
Why was I disappointed? By temperament I dislike parties and crowds, but I suspect something more sinister was at work in me. I realized that my idea of an ultimate Joy was individualistic. It seemed that the ultimate prize should be some great jewel or some magical power that Erec could possess. His greatest prize was bringing joy to everyone else.
Perhaps the point is that only when we fight to bring joy to others that we can be trusted to be kings and queens. It’s only after bringing joy to the whole court that Erec and Enide are fit to rule. The greatest adventure is the victory over our self-centeredness.
This tale, of course, expresses the simple Christian orthodoxy that everything ends in a party. In the end the believer will celebrate with others in a New Jerusalem, not hike alone in Eden. All the court of heaven will rejoice together in the party called the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
Until we live for the joy of the court, we will not be prepared to handle the authority of ruling in God’s kingdom. It is easy for even dedicated servants of God to think about the success of their ministry. Like good knights we may battle against evil, and yet still make the victory more about us than others.
In the end, not only are my adventures not all about me, they aren’t all about us either. It is really about King Jesus—for whose sake we tilt our lance.