The Questing Beast is also known as the Beast Glatisant (in Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur) and the Blatant Beast (in Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene). It does not get its name from the fact that knights went on quests to kill it, though they certainly did so -- in many Arthurian legends the Beast is obsessively sought by King Pellinore, in Malory it is hunted by Palomides the Saracen, and in Spenser the knight Calidore is the pursuant. The appelation, though, comes from the sound the beast constantly produces from its belly, a sound like thirty baying, or "questing," hounds. ("Glatissant" is French for "barking.") This baying noise can strike the beast's pursuers senseless, and ceases only while the creature is drinking.

The Questing Beast is described as having "in shape like a serpent's head and a body like a leopard, buttocked like a lion and footed like a hart" (Le Morte d'Arthur, IX, xii). Spenser's Blatant Beast, though analogous to the Beast Glatisant, is less chimerical -- its main physical feature is that it has "a thousand tongues...That all in spight and malice did agree, / With which he bayd and loudly barkt at mee."

Origin stories for the Questing Beast vary from tale to tale. In The Faerie Queene, Calidore claims that

Of Cerberus whilome he was begot,
And fell Chimaeligra in her darkesome den,
Through fowle commixture of his filthy blot;
Where he was fostred long in Stygian fen,
Till he to perfect ripenesse grew, and then
Into this wicked world he forth was sent,
To be the plague and scourge of wretched men (VI, i)
The Vulgate Cycle, however, tells a story with a more interesting human element. According to this account, the Beast was born of a woman who was in love with her brother. Consumed by her forbidden love, she made a pact with the devil: she would have sex with him if he would make her brother requite her love. However, Satan is apparently very good in bed, because in giving herself to him, the woman forgot entirely her incestuous passions. The devil asked her to bring about her brother's death, so she accused him of rape, and had him thrown to the dogs. Just before his execution, however, he prophesied that her unborn child would be a grotesque monster, and that it would make the same sounds as the dogs who would take his life.

As is obvious from the different origin stories, the Blatant Beast in Spenser represents malicious gossip, while in the Vulgate it signifies incest and affronts to nature in general. In T.H. White's The Once and Future King, by stark contrast, the Beast is a misunderstood and pathetically humorous critter, whose relationship with her antagonist Pellinore is strangely codependent. She even ends up falling in love with two knights dressed in a Questing Beast costume, a scene straight out of a Warner Brothers cartoon.

Spenser has the Beast subdued by Calidore in the twelfth canto of Book 6; the knight shuts the Beast's mordant mouth with iron chains, whereafter it follows him around like a puppy. In the Vulgate, the Beast meets its end when Palomides and Sir Galahad chase it into a lake. The Beast, tired and thirsty from marauding, drinks deeply, quieting its paralyzing sound long enough for Palomides to approach and spear it in the side. As it sinks, the Beast causes flames to shoot out of the lake, and the "Lake of the Beast" boils continuously forever after.

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