Most odd. This is, except for the Robin Williams film, a mysterious phrase. I have just come across it again, in the piece quoted in a previous post about mercy and repentance in Brideshead Revisited:
Then she [Cordelia] tells Charles of the one escape possible from a world fallen into the hands of human beings: divine mercy. She reminds him of the evening at Brideshead when her mother read aloud from a detective story written by G. K. Chesterton, and was interrupted by Sebastian making his first drunken appearance. “Father Brown said something like ‘I caught him’ [the thief] with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.” Brideshead Revisited, if the author’s intention matters, is a story of some fishes lost in a great sea until they are finally hauled to safety by a jerk of the pole in the hands of the Fisher King.
In Arthurian legend, the Fisher King is the wounded guardian of the Holy Grail, his land laid waste because of his infirmity, who is cured by Percival. The figure might originate in the Welsh Bran the Blessed, the keeper of a magic cauldron which could restore the dead to life. Bran’s head was cut off after a war with the Irish, but continued to speak for seven years after his death….the head was later buried under the White Tower at the Tower of London. Here we enter the dim realms of psychogeography – and so I will leave it at that. Suffice it to say that mythological scholars describe the ‘wounded king’ as a universal myth. Which is slightly disappointing- but speaks to the poetry of the human imagination and the yearning for truth and love. Joseph of Arimathea makes an appearance in the legend of the Fisher-King during the later Middle Ages, of course. And the Templars are involved at some point.
The Fisher-King appears in such different elements of modern culture as Breaking Bad, That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis, Joan Didion (who compared Ronald Reagan to the Fisher King), Parsifal, and TS Eliot’s The Waste Land.
According to ‘unimpeachable’ sources on the Internet, in Ulster, the O’Donnell King of Tyrconnell, descended from the High Kings of Irish history and legend, became known as the Fisher-King, because of the trade between Ireland and La Rochelle in France. The motto of the aristocratic branch of the family is…. In Hoc Signo Vinces. The current holder of the title is… a Roman Catholic priest.
Jesus Christ, of course was the first and last Fisher-King. And he made his rough fishermen Apostles fishers of men.
Raphael: The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (1515)
Finally: How’s this for weirdness: “In the early 14th century A.D., the O’Donnell rulers aided Templar knights fleeing to Scotland via Tyrconnell and Sligo, where a Templar priory existed at Ballymote, a Percival family estate for the last 300 years.” Ballymote’s Temple House, established by the Knights Templar, seems indeed to have been the seat of the Percevals – originally a Norman family, granted Irish lands by Elizabeth I. Temple House is now what looks like rather a nice hotel. The descendants of this aristocratic Anglo-Irish family included Spencer Perceval, the only British prime Minister to be assassinated – for his support for the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. He was, at the same time, for obvious reasons, opposed to Catholic emancipation. As the late Kurt Vonnegut would have said… ‘So it goes. So it goes.’ I do so love the Internet.