The Fisher King Trilogy Essay - Critical Essays

Tim Powers


The Fisher King Trilogy succeeds in adapting the myth of the Fisher King into eminently readable novels set in the 1990’s. Filled with rituals, legends, magic, gods and ghosts, each novel reflects extensive research and the deft writing needed to blend these elements into fast-paced, engaging stories.

The character Scott Crane is aptly named. In ancient Greece, cranes were sacred to Demeter, the goddess who renewed the earth each spring when her daughter was released from the Underworld. They are also symbolic of resurrection, and throughout the novels Scott Crane seeks the rebirth of the wasteland created by his father. The bird most closely related to the North American crane is the coot, and, as the series progresses, Koot becomes an “heir” to Scott Crane’s throne.

The novels rely heavily upon Arthurian myth. Like the Fisher King of lore, both Scott and Koot develop a wound which will not heal. In order to succeed, Scott must challenge and defeat a Green Knight figure, Vaughan Trumbill. The discovery of the essential tarot deck occurs only after he has removed a pocketknife stuck in a brick, a symbolic Sword in the Stone. According to legend, the Fisher King can be healed only when an innocent fool asks the question, “Whom does it serve?” In Earthquake Weather, Koot’s first question to Arky and Diana refers to the color of the truck carrying the dead king. By mistakenly asking the wrong question, Koot sets in motion the quest to restore Scott to life.

Powers interweaves subtexts from Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Lewis Carroll, and others to provide greater depth through allusions to both tragedy and irrationality. The humor for which Powers is famous is present throughout. For instance, while seeking Koot Hoomie Parganas, Scant and Janice ask around for someone whose name sounds like “Boogie Woogie Bananas.” Like Carroll, Powers has a gift for comic invention when dramatizing miscommunication.

Powers’s Catholic beliefs fully inform his works. Redemption, forgiveness, salvation, and resurrection are essential to the madcap adventures he depicts. A work not explicitly alluded to by Powers, C. S. Lewis’s famous Space Trilogy, nonetheless presents powerful parallels. These books also deal with Christian motifs and Arthurian myth, and the concluding volumes of both trilogies painfully dramatize the themes of sacrifice and redemption.