Excalibur’s Women – The Victim and a Hidden God

Excalibur – Part II

A few observations and theories on two characters cast in a negative light throughout John Boorman’s masterpiece: Morgana and Guinevere. The movie like most of literature portrays women as the root of the problem. Or does it say something else about these two?

Concepts of duality and equality abound within the movie. Particularly the duality of man also characterized as ‘the battle within oneself.’ This is best exemplified by the character Lancelot who struggles internally throughout and later dies of a self-inflicted wound. However this central theme overlays into the other characters as well. Essentially and being overly simple we must beware that good begets evil and evil begets good. They cannot be separated. Further, within this dual concept things are often paired and not individual.

So who are the women and what do they represent? We know Morgana is paired with Merlin and Guinevere is wife to Arthur. But what they represent or what is their true role within the story is trickier to discern.

First Morgana: Morgana Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Just as I wondered who is the real hero and decided it was Perceval (Part I), I wonder who is the real villain? Is there a real villain? I am not so sure.

Morgana as counter wizard to Merlin and mother to Mordred appears as the main villain for most of the movie. She is certainly portrayed as one evil woman.

But step into her shoes. Or rather the shoes of eight-year old Morgana. From her perspective, her father Cornwall was an equal combatant to Uther. So much so that even after Uther wielded Excalibur, Cornwall was still given “all the land from here to the sea”, which apparently was sizable since Cornwall was happy. Then Merlin and Uther conspire to kill her father, have Uther rape her mother and have Merlin steal her baby brother. No child or her parents deserve this fate.


Murderous conspirator.

To her, quite reasonably and truthfully, Merlin ruined her life. More so, had Merlin given Excalibur to Cornwall (who is not portrayed as big of a jerk as Uther), her father would be King and she would be in line to be Queen. Yet the treacherous Merlin arbitrarily gave an ordained magic tool to her father’s opponent in what was otherwise an equal fight.

There is no possible way anyone, even Mother Theresa, could forgive and forget this.

Also, Morgana is incredibly intelligent and observant. She knew during the rape of her mother that Uther was not Cornwall, meaning she could intuitively see through the silly illusions of Merlin’s magic as a child.

She then created an ambitious plan to take Merlin’s powers the same way Merlin stole her happy future: through deceit. Morgana did not create herself. Like Eve from the rib of Adam, Merlin begat Morgana. She is the equal and dual reflection of Merlin the manipulator.

Similar to Merlin, Morgana never aspires to be Queen or ruler but rather to control who becomes the king. Like Merlin ordaining Excalibur to Uther and then grooming Arthur, Morgana ordains Mordred to be invincible to mortal weapons and grooms him. She like Merlin uses magic to serve the self-interests of her favored people with no regard of the negative consequences or collateral damage done to others. And of course, Merlin and Morgana are the cause of each other’s ultimate demises. Morgana:Merlin

She and Merlin are two sides of the same coin, bound together forever. But while Merlin is the one who dragged her on to the coin, she bears the burden of being deemed evil while also being the first one evilly wronged. One side portrayed white. The other black.  But in reality equal and the same. This is the essence of her speech to Merlin as she eternally traps him in ice.

Further, her duping of Arthur to begat an heir is a smart attempt to set right the wrongs of others. Incest was common among crazy royals as pure bloodlines mattered to support legitimate claims to the throne. By sleeping with Arthur,she tied the two families (Cornwall and Uther) together into a single heir. Mordred is the only grandchild of both the original combatants for the throne with only one grandmother.

To Morgana, Mordred’s ascension to the throne would have as best as possible nullified the crimes done by Merlin and Uther. Remember Morgana’s answer to Mordred when he asks if she has any message for her ‘dear brother’ Arthur? She responds: “You are my message.” Perfect. Morgana Mordred Morgana may have been the only character thinking clearly in the entire movie. Yet like Medusa we are supposed to hate her. Left with no justice, Morgana got shafted.

Now Guinevere: Guinevere ArthurGuinevere does not have much screen time in the movie so there is little material to interpret. Most symbolism in her character lies in the love triangle and betrayal.

We cannot blame her for sleeping with Lancelot. It was Arthur who betrayed her love and their marriage by refusing to defend Guinevere’s honor against Gawain’s untrue accusation. Arthur’s self-righteous arrogance resulted in Lancelot doing a sacred job which must be reserved for a husband. How could Arthur not stand up for his wife and expect her not to give her love to the man who is willing and almost does die for her? Especially when the man is way more talented and cooler than Arthur. Just as Morgana is intelligent, Arthur is an idiot.

His stubborn refusal to honor his wife is the largest error of judgment in the film. It also resulted in Perceval becoming a Knight, Lancelot wounding himself and Merlin using magic to let Lancelot’s love of Guinevere keep him alive despite the wound. Going forward, remember that Arthur’s placement of his laws over her love was the catalyst for the “Things Fall Apart” portion of the movie.

Lancelot doing Arthur's job.

Lancelot doing Arthur’s job.

Back to Guinevere.

Regardless of the essays which could be written about each character or the love triangle, Guinevere is God. And probably more so than Arthur or any other character. Crazy but hear me out.

We are told Arthur is the Lord. Or the representation of a God on Earth. Jesus-like. When Perceval takes the Grail, they come out and say so. This always bothered me since Arthur is an overly fallible fool. Surely God can do better.

Now, the movie is named after a very special sword. As delineated above, the fate of all characters was determined by who got to hold Excalibur and only a few did.

But importantly, how did they get it? Pulling Excalibur Famously, Arthur gets the sword by pulling it from the stone many years after Uther thrust it there.

Excluding the stone, the sword is bestowed twice from a supernatural or magical character: The Lady of the Lake first to Merlin and then to Arthur. These are the only two occasions the sword is “given” or ordained in the movie.

There are also only three instances where the sword is handed from Arthur to another. First to Kay after Arthur pulls the sword and to which Kay quickly returns Excalibur. Then Arthur to Uryens to knight and crown Arthur and later to Perceval to return it to the lake. It should be noted when Kay, Uryens and Perceval are first handed Excalibur, they all have other thoughts about its potential use. Yet as if compelled, they are all quickly faithful to the will of sword’s rightful master, Arthur. Clearly, this is a unique sword for which mere mortals are not capable or permitted to wield.

Regarding the stone, no one was able to pull the sword from that infernal rock. No matter how hard they tried for years, the strongest men around could not budge Excalibur one millimeter. This is an important lesson we already knew: when an authorized user sticks Excalibur into stone, it can only be pulled out by another authorized user. Not even Merlin or Morgana could pull the sword from the stone. Only a deity, semi-deity or a representation of God on Earth like King Arthur.

And Guinevere of course. Didn’t anyone notice?

Growing up, my favorite scene in this movie was what I happily referred to as “Naked Guinevere!”

One sexy goddess.

One sexy goddess.

As we all know, her and Lancelot get it on before Arthur shows up and finds them sleeping. Arthur then abandons Excalibur by sticking it between them, Lancelot runs away and Guinevere cries around the sword. Then everything falls apart until Perceval saves everyone and Guinevere returns Excalibur to Arthur.

Wait! She did what!?!

As a naive youth, what bothered me most about the sexy betrayal scene was the choice of location. Lancelot had been to this place before and it was apparent in both scenes it is full of jagged rock and stone covered in moss. No comfortable areas. Why not do it on the soft grass just over yonder? Is it a simple and obvious ‘love on the rocks’ metaphor? This seems unnecessary under the circumstances.

Excalibur Lancelot Guinevere

This is not a bed of roses.

When Arthur abandons Excalibur, the ground shakes and Merlin agonizingly screams “into the spine of the Dragon!” This was not a normal event – the dragon did not mind too much even when Uther lost Excalibur. We can be certain Arthur did not put Excalibur into dirt or clay or sand. He definitely put it into stone. As explained, only very special people can pull this thing out of a rock. Basically, only Arthur (God) and not Merlin, Morgana or any other characters.

Yet without any explanation, we learn at the end that diminutive and weak-armed Guinevere yanked it out without a problem. And unlike Kay, Uryens or Perceval, she did whatever she wanted with it with no regard of the wishes of Arthur, who later wondered of its location. In her case, she wrapped it up for twenty years as if it was a minor trinket or memento to store away while most of the characters died.

Guinevere is an authorized user of Excalibur. She is not merely Arthur’s wife. She is no less than a God.

Perhaps the one true God.

I stated Excalibur is bestowed or “given” throughout the movie at crucial points only by the Lady of the Lake, a symbol of Paganism. Lady of Lake Well, not exactly. When Arthur abandoned Excalibur, for all intents and purposes, it was forever lost as no one knew where it was.

After Perceval found the Grail, Arthur rode out to fight Mordred without Excalibur yet Mordred was invincible to mortal weapons. Without his sword, Arthur and his army would assuredly lose. Excalibur had to be “given” one more time.

Another theme throughout the movie is the change from Paganism to Catholicism. In the beginning, Excalibur is bestowed by a Pagan God. However, the final time Excalibur is bestowed to Arthur, it is by a representation of the Catholic God, thus continuing the transition of religions.

Where has Guinevere been all these years? A Catholic church: the House of God. When Arthur enters the room to see his wife after twenty years, she is standing in almost the same position and under a similar cross as was the “Lord Arthur” during Perceval’s Holy Grail scene. Yet humbly with no flair or bright lights and music.

Notice that Guinevere only reveals she kept Excalibur after Arthur apologizes for his dumb actions throughout the movie. His final confession. Without which she apparently would have let him ride to defeat. So with triumphal music sneaking in, Excalibur wrapped in pure white cloth is “given” to Arthur by a symbol of God: Arthur’s better half and wife, Guinevere.

More so, Arthur’s “It is a dream I have” speech and final loving words to his wife read perfectly as his prayer that Guinevere will accept him into Her eternal Kingdom of Heaven.

(Video starts after apology/confession)

We have written of the symbolism of Arthur’s death and Perceval’s survival in the other post. Essentially, God is gone and has left us in charge. It is quite a declaration yet fitting end for a movie like this. However, is Arthur the true God? He made enough errors of judgment to certainly doubt his divinity and he departs along with Excalibur, the last symbol of the ancient Pagan Gods.

No one kills Guinevere. No one is looking for her and no one is her enemy in the movie. Looking back, it was the failure to honor Her that caused the downfall of every character but we have no reason to believe she has been or ever shall be in any danger. In the end, all the nobles and magical characters are gone except only her and Perceval, common man.

Finally, we can be assured that noble Perceval, the worthy peasant who rose to Knighthood by bravely defending Guinevere’s honor and whose perseverance of faith was rewarded with the Holy Grail, will forever dutifully serve his Queen.  Even if never comprehending Her true power over his world.

While common man thinks he is alone, God hides in plain sight. At the most obvious of locations but in a form he least expects. Yet as if masterfully manipulated,  the one particular form he has always honored and loved. The one form he shall never fail to defend.

Behold the Almighty.   Nice halo.

Behold the Almighty.
Nice halo too.



You bent my mind, Boorman!

Now, I’m gonna have to read “Le Morte D’Arthur” to get all of this out of my head once and for all.

The (Not So) Hidden Hero of Excalibur


Excalibur – Part I

I love the movie Excalibur. A squire pulling the sword from the stone. The tale of Lancelot. The quest for the Holy Grail and the final embrace of father and son. And never forget the epic and triumphal music. This movie is my knowledge of King Arthur’s tale. John Boorman’s version of this myth will forever suffice for this non-Brit.

The more I watched this polyphonic film, the more I questioned who is the real hero. Eventually, I decided this movie is less about Arthur or Merlin or Lancelot or anything they represent and more about someone else.

The story of Excalibur is a better tale about Perceval. One of the Knights of the Round Table, many people do not remember his name.

Perceval is not on any posters.

Perceval is not on any posters.

The more you think about it the more you realize he is the only character worth a damn in the whole film. And he is not introduced until the middle.

I break this movie into six acts:

Act I:  Backstory with Uther and Merlin and Arthur’s birth

Act II: Arthurs wields Excalibur and becomes King, saving LeondeGrance.

Act III: Introduction of Lancelot and Marriage to Guinevere

Act IV:  Betrayal and Things Fall Apart

Act V:  Quest for the Holy Grail

Act VI: Redemption and Final Battle, Conclusion.

Only Merlin, Arthur and Morgana span all acts in some form.

On first glance, you would probably list the main characters as: Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot, Morgana, Guinevere, Mordred and Uther before going further.

Let us examine these main characters, dispensing first of the two main villains:

Morgana: Wronged in childhood, Merlin and Uther killed her father and it made her evil. Nothing else need be said. (Except here)

Modred: Incestuous, power hungry, murderous, heathen offspring of Morgana and Arthur. Demon child. Pure evil.

And the potential protagonists:

Uther: Undeniably a dirtbag. Merlin basically hands him the thrown by giving him Excalibur and has to teach him how to make peace with Cornwall. A peace which lasts for less than a day. Minutes after making a blood oath, Uther lusts after Cornwall’s wife. He then gets Merlin to cast some magic to lure Cornwall out of his castle and kill him while he rapes the lady in front of her daughter Morgana. Wonderful guy this King is. He got what he deserved. Thrusting the sword in the stone is a cool way to go out though.

Guinevere: Has essentially one job in the whole movie: DO NOT SLEEP WITH LANCELOT! Sleeps with Lancelot and things fall apart. Her redemption is she held on to Excalibur for Arthur. (And so much more)

Don't do it!!!

Don’t do it!!!

Lancelot: The perfect knight with the perfect flaw. Worships Arthur even though he knows Arthur cheated to win their duel. Then becomes useless as he will not come to Camelot since he can not stop lusting over his best friend’s wife. After he sleeps with Guinevere, he goes AWOL for twenty years while things fall apart and then tries to kill Perceval because Perceval has the audacity to come near him. Only comes back at the very end when all the characters are redeemed of the crap they pulled during the movie. It should be noted no one actually kills Lancelot. He appropriately dies from a self-inflicted wound.

Merlin: Unquantifiable idiot whose conceited manipulations spawned the whole fiasco. He gives Excalibur to the arrogant tyrant Uther. He helps Uther rape Cornwall’s wife, getting Cornwall killed in the process and all the while bartering a child with the rapist. Mind you it was Merlin who convinced Uther to make peace with Cornwall in the first place. Duplicitous. He does not ever seem to worry Morgana may want revenge for killing her father even though he confessed his role to Morgana’s mother when he took baby Arthur. Instead, he is deceived like a giant doofus because Morgana shakes her behind at him, getting forever locked in an ice tomb after giving up all his secrets. Like everyone, gets redeemed at the end. This movie could legitimately be retitled “Merlin is a Moron”

The foreseeing Wizard did not foresee a problem with this.

The foreseeing Wizard did not foresee a problem with this.

Arthur: Incompetent squire. Goes from humble king to arrogant king in minutes breaking Excalibur in a fight with Lancelot. Does not notice his best friend ogling his wife at every chance and vice versa. Lets people talk crap about his wife and does nothing before she even sleeps with Lancelot. She then sleeps with Lancelot and he still does nothing except give up Excalibur and be pathetically depressed. Gets easily duped into sleeping with Morgana, hell-spawning Modred. Lets the land fall into disrepair and becomes a genuinely worthless sack of potatoes for twenty years while Morgana and Mordred rampage about. Is always reliant on Merlin for advice and Excalibur for fighting. Sends all the knights on a pompous quest to find the grail for his own purposes, causing the brutal death of every knight but one. After the battle saving LeondeGrance, everything about Arthur reeks of failure and arragance. Until of course he is handed the Holy Grail while decrepitly laying on his throne. He then redeems himself and gets a totally underserved king of kings sendoff.

There is not one worthy hero in this entire lot. Just flawed people who create problems.

So who is the best hero in this movie of heroes?

Perceval. He of perseverance.

This guy.

This guy.

It is clear. Some clues should be (w)holy obvious but we will go in order of the movie.

First, Perceval is the only character who could plausibly represent the viewer or common man. Every character from the onset is either ordained nobility, mysterious Lancelot, a more mysterious lady in a lake, a villain (also ordained nobility) or Merlin. There are no common man characters in the entire film except him. Perceval was not a knight or empowered by lakes or magic. He was a young peasant scrub when Lancelot came upon him. He convinced Lancelot to take him as a squire by showing skill in the forest, successfully shadowing an otherwise fearsome knight for a time and even hunting and cooking while the great Lancelot slept. This is called earning a job through merit and ambition. He then ran all the way to Camelot rather than ride piggy back. This is impressive determination to prove worth to an employer. Who would not hire such a man?

Knighting of Perceval

Knighting of Perceval

Second, he earns knighthood through courage, valor and adherence to duty in the face of death. When Gawain challenged the Queen’s honor before her affair with Lancelot, not one of Arthur’s supposedly loyal or brave knights would rise to his challenge and Lancelot was nowhere to be found. Lowly Perceval did not know what was going on or, frankly, give a hoot. He only knew his King was asking for someone to defend his Queen’s honor. Not to know why but to do or die. Arthur did not know Perceval’s name when he knighted him. It was irrelevant because his qualities already showed. This man leapt on a horse with no armor ready to brazenly charge at what appeared to be certain death against a heavily armored and studly-young Liam Niesson. And more so, Perceval looked on it as if he had won an award. A squire bravely fulfilling a knight’s duty is how a squire becomes a knight. Of course, Lancelot finally showed up to take care of his own mess, sparing Perceval a needless and unjust death. Or sparing Gawain perhaps.

Third and most obvious is Perceval succeeds in the Quest for The Holy Grail and is the only character worthy of speaking with God. Twice actually since he failed on his first attempt to answer the Almighty questions and therefore had to continue the quest.

Act V is the story of the persecution and perseverance of Perceval. The Knights of the Round Table all starve, freeze or are slain in battles but Perceval carries on. They fall to the hallucinogenic temptations of Morgana but Perceval somehow resists. He does however receive good fortune when the boot spur of a dead friend cuts his noose. A little help from heavenly above for the one character who deserves to receive such timely and divine assistance.


God’s scene is not too important. It is straightforward with God asking Perceval about the purpose of life and the Grail and our hero responding “to serve Arthur/The Lord.” Do no begrudge anyone for this. It is difficult to write God well so it is best to leave it as a simple statement about Perceval understanding the meaning of his life (to serve his Lord Arthur) and move along to the rest of movie.

The preceding scene carries more meaning. After seeing Uryens killed and totally hopeless knowing he is the last knight, Perceval comes upon a desolate valley with lowly people around a river. There, he sees old, filthy and haggard Lancelot along with a group of poor souls mourning in a funeral procession. Seeing his former boss and assumed greatest of knights, Perceval begs Lancelot to return to help save Arthur. Perceval thinks they need the awesome abilities of Lancelot to find the Grail. Perceval pleads with Lancelot to keep faith in Arthur and Lancelot promptly tells the people to throw Perceval into the river to drown.

Great juxtaposition, Lancelot represents the best mortal men believed could be attained. As Gawain said, “is there anyone here who doesn’t think him a God?” If anyone thought he was more than a God, it would have been Perceval, his former squire. For Perceval especially, Lancelot would represent the limit of human ability and courage. If Lancelot could not do it, then it could not be done.

And for his dedication to the Round Table and after twenty years of honoring a knightly quest Lancelot has ignored, Perceval is rewarded with a horrible death by the Round Table’s greatest knight, Lancelot himself. Further, since he is the last knight, Perceval knows Evil will win upon his death. But no matter the circumstance or how hopelessly dejected Perceval appears, this man never quits.

Drowning and weighted down by the knightly armor whose worth he thought paramount, Perceval sheds this burden by dumping it on the river bed where it belongs. Practically naked but free, Perceval finally rises ready to meet God. Not as a self-rigteous Knight of the Round Table but the mere and worthy man he has always been. This time, after his long persecution and continued perseverance and with clairvoyance of purpose, he nails without hesitation the Almighty’s questions on the first try. He takes the grail and still half-naked goes straight to pathetic Arthur, restoring the King’s clairvoyance of purpose and setting in motion the final battle which redeems the other characters.


The Final Embrace

Fortunately, Perceval is properly rewarded in the final scenes after an awesome battle. The good guys sacrifice to extinguish evils they themselves created throughout the film, dying brave deaths. No one is left after this brutal slaughter of two armies. No one except somehow Perceval. Of course, how fitting and deserved. The one survivor is our common man. The only man worthy of meeting God twice and living to tell the tale. Perceval’s whole story is akin to the ‘meek who shall inherit the Earth’. Well done, Boorman!

As much meaning as there is in the rise-to-God scene and Perceval’s ultimate survival, there is also much in the sparse dialogue between dying Arthur and Perceval. King Arthur tells Perceval to throw Excalibur into the lake and Perceval tries but thinks against it. He pleads with Arthur that “other men” may need to wield the mighty sword to fight future evils. Arthur tells him when the need comes the sword will again return and commands him to toss it into the lake. Arthur is telling Perceval or rather common man that he does not need help to rule this realm, though Perceval struggles to realize this and still doubts his future despite surviving everything he has already been through.

Keep it!

Keep it!

Now this is the great Excalibur for which everyone battled throughout the movie, forged at the dawn of time or whatever Merlin said. Very few people would have given it up. Not you, probably. Certainly not me. But unlike most, Perceval is truly noble. He takes the greatest weapon ever known and heaves it into the lake to be never seen again. Perceval, the peasant scrub casually introduced in the middle and who at end is the highest and mightiest man in all the land, will be fine without ordained tools or the ordained themselves. Even if he fears what may come, this man will persevere.

As credits roll, King Arthur and all of his fantastical brethren have been rightfully cast off. Their show is done. Only he remains and it could only have been him. Invictus Perceval. Brave and righteous. The (not-so) hidden hero of John Boorman’s Excalibur.