Literature and Film as Modern Mythology

By William K. Ferrell | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
A Search for Laughter

One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest

by Ken Kesey

One of the best-known mythopoeia in Western culture is the legend of King Arthur, particularly in the search for the holy grail, the cup that Jesus Christ used during the Last Supper. According to legend, Joseph of Arimathea came to England as a missionary, bringing the cup with him. Legend holds that he secretly buried the cup for its protection, providing the basis for a search. Eight hundred years later, during a celebration of Pentecost, the cup appears in a vision to King Arthur and the knights of the round table. Four knights take upon themselves the task of finding the cup. The quests of the four knights--Galahad, Gawain, Lancelot, and the ultimate locator of the cup, Percivale--are the stories making up the myth. The grail, which becomes a Christian icon in the Arthurian sagas, is magical in the sense that it will provide food and drink for the believer.

This is not the first encounter with a magical grail. According to mythologist Jessie Weston, the holy grail is an extension of the horn of plenty, better known by its Latin name, a cornucopia--a magical goat's horn capable of supplying human needs. In Celtic mythology, the cornucopia became a graal, a serving platter or cauldron capable of producing food for some while denying it to others. Before the presence of the Romans and the introduction of Christianity, the Celts were druids. Druidism as a religion tends to be pantheistic rather than deistic. God is within all of nature rather than a singular being to be found on a mountain or in the sky. By the twelveth and thirteenth centuries, due to the domination of Christians, the object known to the Celts as a magical serving tray became the holy grail. Joseph Campbell confirms to some extent Weston's opinion by

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