Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
Ordinary life in Monty Python and the Holy Grail is…anything but ordinary.
Our first scene is a ridiculous conversation between Arthur and a French guard about coconuts and swallows, which we quickly learn is actually a pret-ty normal day for our King. Even the absurd lack of horses will soon be unnoticeable.
Call To Adventure
Arthur starts out in medias res with his quest to gain knightly followers, so it isn't until after the Round Table has been formed that we get his true Call to Adventure.
After nope-ing out of Camelot, God breaks through the clouds and gives Arthur and his knights a purpose, to search for the ever-coveted Holy Grail. This is what the rest of their adventures will aim toward…with some slight detours, of course.
Refusal Of The Call
The problem with Arthur and the Knights is that there is no Refusal of the Call.
While it seems reasonable to assume obtaining the Holy Grail will be no easy task, the Knights march on in great spirits, oblivious to the dangers that lie ahead of them, and woefully unprepared for rude Frenchmen.
Meeting The Mentor
If there is a mentor in The Holy Grail it must be Tim, the eccentric sorcerer. Tim, however, doesn't provide Arthur and company with a whole lot of guidance. He mostly just tells them about the cave with clues to the Grail and then laughs as the cute bunny massacres them.
At one point we see him walk out of the frame and then…that's it. So much for a mentor: they really could have used one, too.
Crossing The Threshold
This stage happens the moment each of the Knights splits, and they go their separate ways. While they had only been together for a short time, their combined idiocy seemed to provide a shield from the terrors of the outside world. But as they go alone, each will encounter separate tests and enemies that will test their mettle, if not their metal as well.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
The Knights who say "ni," Anthrax Castle, Swamp Castle, and a three-headed giant: these are the horrors that await our brave, chaste Knights as they venture toward the Grail by their lonely selves.
Each Knight must overcome their weaknesses in order to survive their enemies and prove themselves worthy…or they could just get lucky and stumble upon the right word…or kill tons of innocent bystanders.
Okay, so their efforts to defeat their foes are anything but heroic, but this whole narrative is a parody, and—that's kind of the point.
Approach To The Inmost Cave
Campbell may not have meant the cave thing literally, but such a rocky inlet is exactly what the Knights of the Round Table approach as they draw near their quest's end.
Surely the The Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog was the final ordeal? It was so deceptively ferocious.
While the beast did disembowel many a good Knight, there's an even more perilous climax ahead: crossing a wooden bridge. Okay, it may not sound as frightening, but these tricky questions they must answer to get across cost both the life of Robin and Galahad who fall into the Gorge of Eternal Peril.
Reward (Seizing The Sword)
Crossing the bridge leads to a castle in the distance. It seems that there is no reward yet to be had, but they must be so close; they can actually see the Grail itself shining above the castle.
The Road Back
But it's not that easy. The French are blocking Arthur from the Grail, once again foiling his plans with insults. Arthur and Lancelot are forced to retreat and prepare for one final battle as they make their last push to end their quest.
Suddenly, Arthur has an army of men behind him, ready to charge the castle and overtake the French. Arthur is finally about to prove himself a true King after all the silly nonsense that has happened during his journey…
Return With The Elixir
…but there is no elixir, and no return home.
Arthur and army are stopped by the police, who have been tracking the Knights ever since the historian was killed. The quest narrative parody ends on a low note, an anti-climax with no Grail and no glory.