Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Fisher King

The Guardian of the Grail, so-called because, having been wounded by a lance, he is unable to hunt and must fish. He is first referred to in Perceval, ou Le Conte de Graal by Chrétien de Troyes, although he clearly symbolizes a greater protector. His wounds and title suggest a Christ figure, while his role as protector of the Land is suggestive of the Celtic legend of Bran the Blessed. He is sometimes also called the Wounded King or Maimed King, and he bears the ills of the land; his many Names indicate the many sources from which his legends are taken. In Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur (1485) the FK is called Pelles, and is the father of Elaine, who bore Galahad to Lancelot. When Perceval encounters him at the Grail Castle and witnesses the Procession of the Grail he fails to ask the meaning of the Bleeding Lance or of the Grail, and his failure to do so means that the land will be laid to waste (> Waste Land); it is this inaction that prompts the Quest for the Grail.

In some legends the FK was Joseph of Arimathea's brother-in-law, Bron (suggestive of Bran), who accompanied Joseph to Britain with the Grail. The "fish" association is thus linked to the earlier emblem of Christianity, and the FK becomes the symbol for the sanctity of Britain. It is in this shadowy role as guardian and protector of the spirit of Britain with the ability of Healing that the FK is most represented in fiction – see particularly That Hideous Strength (1945) by C S Lewis, and The Drawing of the Dark (1979) and Last Call (1992) by Tim Powers. In The Paper Grail (1991) by James P Blaylock the FK forms part of a complex quest, while Anthony Powell (1905-2000) uses the concept symbolically in The Fisher King (1986). The most complete fantasy novel about the FK is The Grail of Hearts (1992) by Susan Shwartz. The movie The Fisher King (1991) uses some of the legend in a contemporary setting. [MA]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.