THE FISHER KING
The tale begins with the king as a boy having to spend the night alone in the forest to prove his courage so he can become king. While he is spending the night alone he is visited by a sacred vision. In the fire appears the Holy Grail, a symbol of God’s divine grace. A voice said to the boy, “You shall be keeper of the Grail so it may heal the hearts of all people.” But the boy was blinded by greater visions of a life filled with power, glory and beauty. In this state of radical amazement he felt for a brief moment not like a boy, but invincible, like God. So he reached into the fire to take the Grail. And the Grail vanished leaving him with the hand in the fire to be terribly wounded.
As this boy grew older, his wound grew deeper until one day life lost all reason for him. He had no faith in any human, 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. And being a fool he was simple minded, he didn’t see a king, he only saw a man alone and in pain. An 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 and filled it with water and handed it to the king. And the king began to drink.
He realized his wound was healed. He looked at his hands and there was the Holy Grail—that which he 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.”
In the days of King Arthur, or so they say, the Holy Grail was the holiest of quests for the Knights of the round table. The story of the Grail is told in many ways. The details are hazy, as is only right for a story so ancient, but always there is the Fisher King or the Wounded King. He languishes for many years, longing to regain his health. In some versions of the story, the land too is barren without a healthy King to bring it life. Often the questing knight is turned away from fulfilling his quest when he fails to ask, or sometimes answer, the healing question required: “What is the Holy Grail? And whom does it serve?”
This version of the story comes from the 1991 movie, The Fisher King, directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Robin Williams. In this telling of the story, a fool wanders in and finds the Holy Grail rather than a noble knight. And it is not a knight or even the fool who asks a question to discover the source of healing, it is the King.