The Grail quest is of a story type called “Frustrated Redemption,” characterized by “the presence of two protagonists: a youth in quest of adventures and a supernatural being (spectre, bewitched prince or princess), frequently plunged into a magic sleep in some inaccessible place (cave, enchanted castle, etc.).”  Though Thorin is no youth, he faces a sleeping supernatural being: Smaug.
Irit Ruth Kleiman notes that it is Perceval’s responsibility to “lift the malediction that has befallen his lineage and restore the health of the Grail kingdom.”  Thorin must face the legacy of madness associated with his lineage to restore the dwarven kingdom. Kleiman says that “Chretien exposes a universe wounded and vulnerable, torn between nostalgia and denial, in which sons have not succeeded in taking the places vacated by their fathers.’”  Thorin has failed to take the place vacated by Thror/Thrain and is not able to look to his grandfather/father for guidance because he has died before Thorin comes into power. Thorin will never take their places because he too dies before he can restore Erebor. He is driven by nostalgia for the old Erebor with a denial of Thror’s madness.
There are some smaller similarities between Thorin and Perceval. Perceval does not have a proper name for much of the story. He does not know his name; his mother called him “dear son” and this is the only title he knows.  His name must be discovered. Thorin has a proper name, yet his title, King Under the Mountain, is withheld from him. He too must earn his name.
The characters have some similar faults. One of Perceval’s is that he does not ask questions. He says nothing when seeing a lance that oozes blood, nor does he ask who is served from the Grail when it passes through, for fear of being rude.  Later, he is told that if he had asked the questions, it would have healed the Fisher King and returned to him the ability to govern his land.  Thorin doesn’t share Perceval’s concern for politeness, yet he too does not ask questions. He insults Thranduil in the Dwarvish tongue, refusing to trade treasure for aid. Thorin does not ask about Thranduil’s burns, which may have greatly changed the quest. Was he able to see them, or was that something for moviegoers only?
One major difference is that Perceval is young and naive. Thorin is aging, though there is still a bit of naiveté about him. In the film, this naiveté may still be noteworthy. Thorin is still young in comparison with elves, which shows in his behavior. His refusal to show Elrond his map seems quite immature, and his brash refusal contrasts sharply with Elrond’s quiet patience. Thranduil has neither Elrond’s wisdom nor his patience, yet his comparatively vast age gives him experience that would benefit Thorin.
Kleiman notes that Perceval’s behavior is not just the result of youthful inexpereince, but is “grounded in the brute selfishness of a young person convinced that he is the centre of the universe, and unable to conceive of another place or a suffering Other.”  Thorin recognizes the importance of Erebor and his kingship to the dwarves, but he does not recognize his position in Middle-Earth. He does not want to discuss Erebor with Elrond—he does not value Elrond’s wisdom, nor does he believe that his quest should involve any non-Dwarves. Thorin will not humble himself to gain aid from Thranduil (though the latter hardly produces an environment conducive to cooperation). He will not listen to Bard, failing to consider the effect that Smaug’s awakening will have on Lake-Town.
Thorin Oakenshield may have gray in his hair, but he approaches his Grail quest like an inexperienced youth. Adventures shape adventurers. Though Thorin and Perceval have some similarities, Thorin is not Perceval, so the comparisons are only so useful. However, The Hobbit has a deep literary background, and while I’m quite aware that I’m trying too hard, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the speculation.
- Alexander H. Krappe, “The Fisher King,” The Modern Language Review, 39, no. 1 (1944): 18.
- Irit Ruth Kleiman, “X Marks the Spot: The Place of the Father in Chrétien de Troyes’s ‘Conte du Graal,’” The Modern Language Review, 103, no. 4 (2008): 969.
- Ibid., 972.
- Chrétien de Troyes, “Perceval: The Story of the Grail,” Arthurian Romances, trans. D.D.R. Owen (London: Everyman, 1991): 328.
- Ibid., 3158.
- Ibid., 3571.
- Kleiman, “X Marks,” 977.