The Fisher King - (Terry Gilliam's urban version of the myth)

Parry: Jack--I may be going out on a limb here but you don't seem like a happy camper. (pause) Did you ever hear the story of the Fisher King?
Jack: No.
Parry: It begins with the King as a boy--having to spend a night alone in the forest to prove his courage so that he could become king. While he was standing there alone, he's visited by a sacred vision. Out of the fire appears the Holy Grail, the symbol of God's divine grace. And a voice said to the boy, "You shall be the keeper of the Grail, so that it may heal the hearts of men." But the boy was blinded by greater visions, of a life filled with power and glory and beauty. And in this state of radical amazement, he felt for a brief moment not like a boy, but God. So he reached into the fire to take the Grail. And the Grail vanished, leaving him with his hand in the fire, to be terribly wounded.
Now, as this boy grew older, his wound grew deeper, until one day, life for him lost its reason. He had no faith in any man, not even himself. He couldn't love or feel loved. He was sick with experience. He began to die.
One day, a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. Being a fool, he was simpleminded, he didn't see a king, he saw a man alone and in pain. And he asked the king, "What ails you, friend?" The king replied, "I'm thirsty. I need a some water to cool my throat." So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water, handed it to the king. As the king began to drink he realized that his wound was healed. He looked at his hands, and there was the Holy Grail that which he sought all of his life! And he turned to the fool and said in amazement, "How could you find that which what my brightest and bravest could not?" And the fool replied, "I don't know. I only knew that you were thirsty." Very beautiful, isn't it? I think I heard that at a lecture once...I don't know...a Hunter.

The Myths Behind The Fisher King

"The Fisher King is the guardian of the Holy Grail, which, in medieval legends, is the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper and which was used to collect drops of his blood at the Crucifixion."(Dreams: The Fisher King ed. Phil Stubbs).

"The Fisher King is dying, his kingdom is dying around him," Gilliam says as he describes the various myths surrounding the Fisher King and the Grail. "He's a man who's probably seen too much of life - he's experienced betrayal and tragedy. His life is slowly crumbling, and his kingdom goes barren. He's also lost the Grail. It's the one thing that can save him, but he's lost the ability to see it and experience it. A fool comes along and finds the Grail right next to his bed and restores the king."(Dreams: The Fisher King ed. Phil Stubbs).

"The fool, a pure and innocent soul, demonstrates the kind of compassion that can free the king from mortal anguish. Although aspects of both Williams' and Bridges' characters correspond to the fool, it is Parry, in retreat from his reality, who is clearly the more innocent soul." (Dreams: The Fisher King ed. Phil Stubbs).

"Parry is a man with a previous life that was so damaged that he had to create another personality," Williams says. "It's like post-traumatic stress syndrome: Some people respond to traumatic or tragic events by withdrawal; some even create other personalities. Parry is a creation - somewhat Don Quixote, somewhat Groucho Marx - but he's a creation designed to avoid a past event."(Dreams: The Fisher King ed. Phil Stubbs).

In contrast to Parry, Jack is "a cynical fellow who, underneath, is a romantic who's been crushed or hurt in some way," Bridges says. "At the core, he has a lot of goodness that just kind of pops out of him... he can't help it. The film's about redemption, about healing wounds and how giving and getting are really pretty much the same thing. My character really gets the ultimate gift by his giving, not by his receiving."(Dreams: The Fisher King ed. Phil Stubbs). "The Fisher King is a sensitive and frank story of redemption" (Taylor, Senses of Cinema).


  1. I definitely have to watch the Fisher King again. Thank you for the reminder of this lovely myth as well as the movie. And by the way, I love the new picture of the ocean. The colors are just ethereally beautiful.

  2. Hi Kathy! I am glad it reminded you of something significant to you. It has always been an important story for me too, and something recently reconnected me to it. I did do some research into the original Arthurian myth which is quite different enigmatic and layered. There are actually several, but they all involve a wounded king and a land laid waste because of his inability to heal. In addition, the grail is always prominent. Here is the link. I know you are a lover of things Arthurian. Gilliam took it to a different and more modern level and I appreciate him for that. It is accessible and easily embraced by all. It reminds me that Jung often used myth and archetype in his work with patients. Parry, having been a Professor of Mythological studies would have benefited from that kind of therapy perhaps, but he chose to live it instead. Thanks for the comment on the blog. I like the photo as well.

  3. Lessons for those with eyes. There are only a few things that can be found using force. The knights and their secret bonds prove that the prize remains one palm's length out if reach, if sought by force. Justice, security, love, being the chosen, are attained by an inner jihad, finding these very objects we desire first, then rectifying the wrongs in the objective world. The means become the ends themselves, also the prize.

    Great blog.

  4. Yes, Thomas, an inner struggle or "striving in the way of Allah" is the way to find these objects that are most desired and Jack becomes the Mujahid in companionship with Parry in this story. I thoroughly agree with you. I love the phrase "the prize remains one palm's length out of reach if sought by force." the film itself manifests the desire of both men to rectify the wrongs in the world once they make their own significant Self discoveries. Beautiful.

  5. Was just scrolling back through your blog entries and came across this wonderful post--thanks for reminding me of The Fisher King story--it is SUCH a rich myth. I'm going to need to see the movie again in light of your post.

    By the way, it also reminded me of this song, called The Fisher King. It was written and performed by Carrie Newcomer. I find so much meaning in the lyrics and I'll also post them here as well. Hope you enjoy.

    Down the road and to the left
    It’s never been any further
    To find the thing that you never lost
    who serves, who serves the grail

    Are you the one that’s common born,
    a fool in many ways
    Have you searched half your life,
    looking for some Holy Grail?
    Did you see it in a dream,
    a vision once when you were young?
    Does the circle lead you back,
    to the place where you begun.

    Down the road and to the left
    It’s never been any further
    To find the thing that you never lost
    who serves, who serves the grail

    Are you the one he left behind,
    or was it you to finally leave
    The one that always wore your heart,
    out for anyone to see
    Brow to brow and side to side,
    palm to palm and Toe to toe
    Had you really no idea,
    how far and deep an echo goes

    Down the road and to the left
    It’s never been any further
    To find the thing that you never lost
    who serves, who serves the grail

    Are you the pilgrim on the road,
    are you the hermit in the wood
    Have you followed what you know,
    what you want or what you should
    Have you learned a thing or two,
    have you wondered at the time?
    In your dark night of the soul,
    am I the one you thought you’d find

    Grace and laughter, ever after,
    sorrow folds her hands together
    Was it all and did you mean it,
    In the dark you’ve always seen a
    Bright and shining true idea

    I am the wound that will not heal.
    I am a song you cannot sing
    I am an endless restless ache.
    I am I am the fisher king
    And all that I can ask of you,
    is do what small good that you can
    Speak the words I long to hear,
    and meet me where I am

    Down the road and to the left
    It’s never been any further
    To find the thing that you never lost
    who serves, who serves the grail


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