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Children of Men: A Modern Fisher King Myth, Part II: The Fisher King/Grail Knight

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Did you miss Part I? Find it here.

The Fisher King is the ruler of this land that has fallen to waste. In fact, the Wasteland comes about with a wound suffered by the King. Usually this wound is in the leg, foot, or groin–the latter being most evocative in showing the direct link between wound and fertility. The Fisher King is stuck in stasis–he cannot heal or die. This begins to explain the Wasteland. Natural life is a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. If the King is not allowed to die, rebirth cannot happen. Some scholars believe this is a more abstract version of ye olde pagan belief that spurred an annual ritual wherein the king would have sex with an earth priestess to bring fertility back to the land in springtime (whoa–good ritual). If the king became too old or infirm, his virility would be inadequate and he would need to be replaced.

In the Fisher King myth, he is also the keeper of the Grail, the ultimate source of life and plenty (more on that in Part III). But stuck in stasis, he cannot save the land. He needs a knight to hero’s journey himself to the restoration of the land’s fertility.

Jasper: Chance. He was their sweet little dream. He had little hands, little legs, little feet. Little lungs. And in 2008, along came the flu pandemic. And then, by chance, he was gone. You see, Theo’s faith lost out to chance. So, why bother if life’s going to make its own choices?

In Children of Men, the Fisher King and Grail Knight are combined in Theo, who is deeply, spiritually wounded. As a former activist, he once had faith in the power of change, but the loss of his son has destroyed that faith. Now he drinks himself through days, separated from the wife he still loves, going to work in a numb haze. He says to his friend Jasper that he wakes up daily and “feel[s] like shit.” Jasper points out his drinking and says it’s a hangover. Theo responds that if it were a hangover, at least he’d feel something. He lost his son 18 years ago, the same year the last baby was born. The loss of his son, the fruit of his loins, is the metaphorical wound of the groin.

There’s also a good deal of focus on his feet, which later in the film become injured, causing a limp. When Theo rescues Kee (the Grail in the form of a pregnant refugee) from the rebel group the Fishes (another reference to the Fisher King, since they fancy themselves as the Grail Knights but fail in their quest), he loses his shoes while attempting to run through mud. I believe the motif of feet indicate changes in Theo on his hero’s journey. He is transformed by the quest, as all knights are. The loss of his shoes in the mud is the loss of his distance to the quest. Originally he agreed to help Julian because he needed the money. When he understands what’s at stake and that the Fishes killed Julian, he accepts his role as Grail Knight. He gets a replacement pair of flip-flops from his friend Jasper, his mentor and ally, the night before the Fishes kill Jasper. Though hardly adequate to protect his feet physically, these are a manifestation of the faith Jasper still carries to help Theo get through the next part of his journey. In the climax of the film, at the start of the Uprising, he injures his foot on broken glass but receives a final set of shoes before setting off in the boat that will take Kee to the Human Project and fix the world’s infertility. The limp at the end puts him back in to the role of Fisher King and out of the role of Grail Knight, which is important to do before his death, so that his death will restore the birth-death-rebirth cycle.

In Part III, I address the film’s handling of the Grail and its role in the restoration of fertility.

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Author: Erin Perry

I'm a high school English teacher specializing in AP Literature and Film Analysis. I'm interested in most things geeky, including superheroes, vampires, zombies, teen culture, postmodern philosophy, pop culture analysis, and combinations of the aforementioned. Follow me on Twitter @eriuperry.

One thought on “Children of Men: A Modern Fisher King Myth, Part II: The Fisher King/Grail Knight

  1. Pingback: ‘Mad Max: Fury Road': Another Modern Fisher King Myth, Part 2: The Fisher King(s) | The Dinglehopper

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