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The quest elements in the films of John Boorman

Phillip J Rooney, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Director John Boorman has stated that he has long been interested in the mythical pattern of the Grail Quest and in the symbolism and imagery present in Sir Thomas Malory's, T. H. White's, and Wolfram von Eschenbach's versions of the Arthurian legends. He has called the Arthurian myth his "personal spirit myth," and says that it informs all of his films. This study will analyze Boorman's films in the light of mythological symbolism and explore the insights gained by considering the films as retellings of the Grail Quest legend. In particular, I will analyze Boorman's films using the terms and themes that Jessie L. Weston associates with the Grail Quest and vegetative "Mystery Cults": elements such as the close relationship between the Fisher King, or his representative, and the fertility and prosperity of the land--a theme also explored in James George Frazer's work, The Golden Bough--and the restoration of the land by the actions of the quest hero. I shall also present evidence of the presence, in Boorman's films, of other Arthurian elements: the sword (or other mystic weapon) which is often seen rising from the water, a Round Table of some sort, and the Merlin character--a mystic guide or advisor who counsels the hero. Much of the material in this study is based on the work of a writer for whom Boorman feels an affinity: Joseph Campbell. Campbell's writings elucidate the patterns and meanings of the hero adventure tale. Campbell, Frazer, and Northrup Frye have demonstrated that many of the beings and objects in myths have universal psychological significances (an idea also found in Jung's concept of archetypes). This study attempts to show that Boorman's films, while taking the audience into the realm of Arthurian myth, rely on these significances to explore the human psyche.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature|Motion Pictures|Literature|Middle Ages

Recommended Citation

Rooney, Phillip J, "The quest elements in the films of John Boorman" (1989). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI8918562.