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THE FISHER KING MYTH

 

In Arthurian legend, there is a story of the Fisher King.  To summarize, a guardian of the Holy Grail is injured as a result of his inability to resist this sacred treasure.  As he grows older, he searches for redemption.  Parsifal (hence the name of Robin Williams' character "Parry" in the film) helps the guardian (also called the Fisher King) redeem himself.  

 

The red knight is an enemy of King Arthur, whom Parsifal slays.  In the film, the red knight represents Parry's hidden pain and emotional tragedy.

 

For more information, visit this extensively detailed overview of the myth. 

 

The story of the Fisher King, as related in the film, is given below.  Since many bits had to be excised in order to better fit the film medium, I have also included the longer, uncut version from the screenplay.

 

 

The Film Version (as voiced by Robin Williams):

It [the story of The Fisher King] begins when the king is a boy, having to spend the night alone in the forest to prove his courage so he can become king.  And while he's spending the night alone he is visited by a sacred vision.  Out of the fire appears the Holy Grail, the symbol of God's divine grace.  

Parry relates the story of the Fisher King

And a voice said to the boy, "You shall be keeper of the grail so that it may heal the hearts of men."  But the boy was blinded by greater visions of a life of power, and glory, and beauty.  And in this state of radical amazement he felt for a brief moment, not like a boy, but invincible, like God.  So he reached in 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 love.  He was sick with experience; he began to die.  

One day a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone.  Now being a fool he was simple-minded; he didn't see a king, he only saw a man alone and in pain.  And he asked the king, "What ails you, friend?"  

The king replied, "I'm thirsty. I need some water to cool my throat."  

So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water, and handed it to the king.  As the king began to drink, he realized his wound was healed.  He looked in his hands and there was the Holy Grail, that which he had sought all of his life.  

He turned to the fool and said with amazement, "How could you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?"  

The fool replied, "I don't know. I only knew that you were thirsty."

The Original Screenplay Version (as written by Richard LaGravenese):

Let's begin with the story itself.  It's the story of the Grail myth, and although there are several variations, my favorite begins with the Fisher King as a young boy who had to spend a night alone in the forest to prove his courage.  And during that night, he is visited by a sacred vision.  Out of the fire appears the Holy Grail--God's highest symbol of divine grace.  And a voice says to the boy, "You shall be the guardian of the Grail, that it may heal the hearts of men."  

The Fisher King:  A Mythic Journey for Modern Man

But the boy was overcome.  Innocent and foolish, he was blinded by greater visions--a life ahead filled with beauty and glory, hope and power.  Tears filled his eyes as he sensed his own invincibility.  A boy's tears of naive wonder and inspiration.  And in this state of radical amazement, he felt for a brief moment, not like a boy, but like God.  And so he reached into the fire to take the Grail.  And the Grail vanished.  And the boy's hands were left caught in the flames, leaving him wounded and ashamed at what his recklessness had lost him.  

When he became King, he was determined to reclaim his destiny and find the Grail.  But with each year that passed, with each campaign he fought, the Grail remained lost, and this wound he suffered in the fire grew worse.  He became a bitter man.  Life for his lost its reason.  With each disappointment, with each betrayal, with each loss, this wound would grow. 

Soon the land began to spoil from neglect and his people starved.  Until finally, the King lost all faith in God's existence and in man's value.  He lost his ability to love or be loved and he was so sick with experience that he started to die. 

As the years went on, his bravest knights would search for the Grail that would heal their King and make them the most respected and valued men in the land, but to no avail.  Pretty soon, finding the Grail became a ruthless struggle between ambitious men vying for the King's power, which only confirmed the King's worst suspicions of man, causing his wound to grow.  His only hope, he thought, was death. 

Then one day, a fool was brought in to the King to cheer him.  He was a simple-minded man, not particularly skilled, or admired.  He tells the King some jokes, sings him some songs, but the King feels even worse.  Finally, the fool says, "What is it that hurts you so much?  How can I help?" 

And the king says, "I need a sip of water to cool my throat." 

So, the fool takes a cup from the bedstand, fills it with water and hands it to the King.  Suddenly, the King feels a lot better.  And when he looks to his hands, he sees that it was the Holy Grail the fool handed him, an ordinary cup that had been beside his bed all along. 

And the King asks, "How can this be?  How could you find what all my knights and wisest men could not find?" 

And the fool answers, "I don't know.  I only knew you were thirsty." 

And for the first time since he was a boy, the King felt more than a man--not because he was touched by God's glory, but rather, by the compassion of a fool.

Richard LaGravenese:  "Robin asked for old drafts to look through for lines that might have been lost as well as different versions of the Fisher King monologue in Central Park (there were at least half a dozen).  This monologue became a real community effort, as everyone had an idea about what it meant, or what it should mean.  In the set one day, I even got a call form two Los Angeles location people I'd never met, asking why I had cut certain lines from the version they'd read.  They then sent me a tape recorded version of the Grail Myth."

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