The Dead Knight and The Fisher King

In Ritual to Romance, Jessie Weston writes about the legends of the Grail and the Fisher King. She writes that in the Bleheris version of the story there is a Dead Knight next to the King. He was killed by the ‘Dolorous Stroke‘ which was also responsible for the creation of the Wasteland. The Dead Knight plays a role similar to the Fisher King of other stories who were similar in appearance and circumstance to the land. The Wauchier text contains the Perceval version of the grail legend. In this version, the Dead Knight is the brother of the King. The dead brother of the King (now given the name Gondefer) was murdered by the treacherous Partinal. Perceval must then slay the murderous traitor to renew the land and the King.

Both the character of the King and the Dead Knight show a connection between leaders and their land. In both versions of the story presented, the leaders are harmed and nature follows. The same thing happens when wars are fought. There is some sort of struggle among leaders and the rest of the country has to deal with it. Wars begin with various causes but they end with soldiers left to fight on the ground. Soldiers do not hold ill will towards the opposing soldiers because this is not truly their fight. They have not sat down with the other soldiers and realized how much of a jerk that one German lieutenant is. No! They fight because they have been told to do it and their fighting is destroying the land.

Eliot, along with his contemporaries, felt disillusioned with the world and how easily country leaders could flippantly change it. In the grail legends, the King and the Knight do nothing to restore their land and they pay no further price. A new knight simply comes along to pick up the pieces and restore the land. I doubt Eliot would like this type of ending. Throughout his poem there is fire and water. Fire is often written as destructive and bad whereas water is good and gives life but Part IV of the poem is titled Death by Water. In this way, restoration and life does not yield the best outcome. I am left wondering if Eliot sees any possible way of overcoming without entering a new cycle of destruction.

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