Eventually, it is killed by Sir Palamedes, with the help of Percival and Galahad.
In this article, you will learn:
- What the Questing Beast is
- Its physical characteristics
- Early versions of the creature
- The story of the Questing Beast
- The Questing Beast in modern media
What is the Questing Beast?
The Questing Beast is a monstrous animal, the offspring of a princess and a demon. The princess lusted after her own brother, a prince named Galahad, son of King Hipomenes. The demon convinced her to sleep with it, promising in return that Galahad would fall in love with her.
However, the demon ended up impregnating the princess and manipulated her into accusing her brother of rape. In response, King Hipomenes executed Galahad by having him torn apart by a pack of dogs.
Just before he died, Galahad prophesied to his sister that she would give birth to a monster that would make the same sound as the pack of dogs that were tearing him to pieces. The Questing Beast was the ‘child’ born to her.
In most versions of the story, the Questing Beast was a large creature with a combination of features from different animals:
- The body of a leopard
- The head and neck of a serpent
- The thighs and tail of a lion
- The feet of a hart
However, the earliest version of the Questing Beast in the Arthurian legends is a little different.
Rather than being an enormous creature, it was small – in fact, it was smaller than a fox. There is no mention of it having the appearance of a variety of different animals. Rather, it is simply described as a beautiful creature with pure, white fur.
One of the most striking features of the beast was the sound it made. It was like an enormous pack of dogs barking constantly. This is exactly what Prince Galahad had prophesied to his sister.
But rather than this tumultuous sound coming from its mouth like a dog, the sound came from its belly. It is said that this sound was from its unborn offspring inside it.
The Early Literary Versions of the Questing Beast
The earliest version (probably Perlesvaus) of the tale of the Questing Beast is very different to the most famous version.
In the 13th-century tale Perlesvaus, the Questing Beast is found by Percival in a glade, where the beast is a small, white creature. It is distressed due to its tumultuous, unborn offspring.
Percival watches as the creature gives birth to twelve young. These animals immediately attack their mother, tearing her to pieces and eating her head. They then lose their sanity and scatter into the forest.
Later in the 13th century, Gerbert de Montreuil wrote a similar version, with the key difference being that the Questing Beast was large, rather than small. And rather than being torn to pieces by its offspring, the birth process itself tore the beast in two.
In Estoire du Saint Graal, another 13th-century source, the Questing Beast is still white, but this time it is made up of several different creatures:
- The head and neck of a ewe
- The body of a fox
- The legs of a dog
- The tail of a lion
Obviously, this is a very different description of the Questing Beast compared to later renditions.
The Hunt for the Questing Beast
In the Prose Merlin, Percival is destined to hunt the Questing Beast. At this point, the tale of the beast is starting to resemble the famous version. But the beast itself is still not described the way it is famously known today.
It is in the Prose Tristan that we finally find the famous description of the Questing Beast: the body of a leopard, the neck and head of a serpent, the thighs and tail of a lion, and the legs of a stag.
Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur presents the most famous version of the tale of the Questing Beast.
In this version, the beast is seen by Arthur as he is resting by a tree. He then meets King Pellinore, who informs Arthur that he is pursuing the beast.
Pellinore goes on to inform Arthur that it is his family’s destiny to hunt and kill the beast – in fact, he claims that they are the only ones who are able to do so.
Eventually, Pellinore dies. Sir Palamedes continues the hunt for the beast in his behalf, although he also has his own reasons for wanting the beast dead. It was responsible for the deaths of eleven of his brothers.
The Death of the Beast
Sir Palamedes pursues the Questing Beast fruitlessly, just like Sir Pellinore.
However, this changes when he converts to Christianity. His newfound faith brings him relief from worldly pursuits, enabling him to finally vanquish the beast.
During the last year of the Holy Grail Quest, while with Percival and Galahad, Palamedes catches up to the beast and strikes it.
Badly wounded, it flees into a nearby lake, which then starts to boil.
With that, the Questing Beast is no more.
The Questing Beast in Modern Media
The Questing Beast has featured in multiple modern adaptations and popular culture, including the following:
- The Questing Beast features in T. H. White’s famous The Once and Future King, published in 1958. The story presented is broadly similar to the version found in Le Morte d’Arthur, with King Pellinore searching fruitlessly for the beast his whole life.
- The TV show Lost in Space featured the Questing Beast in an episode broadcast in 1967. In this version, the beast is pursued by a knight named Sir Sagramonte.
- The tabletop collectable card game Magic: The Gathering, released in 1993, has a card which features the Questing Beast.
- The novel The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde, published in 2003, also features the Questing Beast.
- The BBC series Merlin featured the Questing Beast in the finale of season 1, released in 2008. This version bears very little similarity to the version from the medieval legends. The beast bites Arthur, mortally wounding him, and is then slain by Merlin immediately afterwards.
Be sure to check out MythBank’s list of other Arthurian creatures and their role in the King Arthur legends.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Questing Beast
Who Killed the Questing Beast?
In the earliest version of the tale of the Questing Beast, it is killed by its own offspring after giving birth to them. They tear their mother to pieces and devour her head.
Another version has the Questing Beast die during the birth itself. The process was so violent that the beast was torn apart by the offspring coming out.
In the more famous version of the tale, the Questing Beast is killed by Sir Palamedes, with the help of Percival and Galahad.
Was the Questing Beast Evil?
The original version of the Questing Beast was certainly not evil. It was a small, innocent creature killed by its own offspring.
In later versions, it was a large, monstrous creature responsible for the deaths of a number of people. However, it was mentally just an animal, so it cannot really be described as evil.
What Does the Questing Beast Symbolize?
The Questing Beast symbolizes the trouble that incest and adultery would cause Arthur’s kingdom, eventually bringing its downfall.
What Does the Questing Beast Look Like?
In the earliest legends that mention the beast, it is described as a small creature, even smaller than the size of a fox. It has a beautiful appearance, with a pure white coat of fur.
In the later versions, which are more famous, the Questing Beast is a very large creature. Its body is like a leopard, its head and neck are like a serpent, and it has the thighs of a lion and the feet of a hart.
Was the Questing Beast a Giraffe?
The Questing Beast was a mythical creature, the offspring of a woman and a demon. But the physical characteristics of the most famous version do seem to have come from a description of a giraffe. Some scholars think that the medieval writers simply did not know what a giraffe really was but were vaguely familiar with the description.
What Does ‘Questing’ Mean?
The word ‘Questing’ comes from the word ‘Questen’ in Middle English, which has two meanings. It can refer to ‘pursuing’ (like the modern verb ‘to quest’ for something). But it can also refer to ‘barking’, like the sound made by the beast. Therefore, the name ‘Questing Beast’ has a double meaning. It is a beast that barks and is pursued.
- Norris Lacy, Geoffrey Ashe, Debra Mancoff – The Arthurian Handbook (Second Edition)
- Alan Lupack – The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend
- Ronan Coghlan – The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Arthurian Legends
- Anonymous – Lancelot-Grail, the French Vulgate
- Sir Thomas Malory – Le Morte d’Arthur