The Sword in the Stone Hand:

The Arthurian Trends in Hellboy

In the literary arena, there are several myths that comic books pull from to feed their storylines. Often times, they come from Greek and Roman mythology, others come from the supernatural sources such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula. One of the legends that is sometimes touched upon slightly is King Arthur and the Round Table, made famous in the Anglo-Saxon period. Literary consumers have seen bits and pieces of it all over movies, television, books, and comics. Readers would see little tidbits of Arthurian themed ideas such as Excalibur as being a sword that endured due to its magical properties for centuries. There are also many references to Camelot and even the characters such as Lancelot and King Arthur himself. In “The Wild Hunt” storyline, Mike Mignola brings several Arthurian aspects into the Hellboy universe.

The Hellboy series has always used any sort of creature and demon from a variety of cultural stories, but Mignola finally brings in the Arthurian legends to the forefront of the Hellboy mythos. We see many characters such as Merlin being discussed, the armies of Arthur, and especially Excalibur being used to fuel these chapters of the Hellboy series. Mignola creates a new linage to the Pendragon family by bringing in the characters of Morgan Le Fay.

The storyline kicks off when Hellboy is invited to hunt down zombie giants with a few of the noble families of Britain. While he is talking to a few of them, they spring a trap and attempt to kill him. During the attack, the traitors speak cryptically about not letting a monster on the throne. Mignola starts to leave the reader clues as to the familial revelation that Hellboy would soon be receiving. All throughout this time, Hellboy is having visions about a woman named Alice. A character the Mignola had created in the Hellboy world earlier as a child whom he had saved. She grew up, and after Hellboy survives the attempt on his life and killing a few giants along the way, they are reunited. The reader quickly learns that she has also been having visions and soon it becomes evident that there is some sort of connection between Alice and Hellboy.

It turns out that Queen Mab (also of Arthurian lore) has been talking to Alice to bring Hellboy to her. Soon what is presented to the reader is oncoming storm of an army of violent demons, elves, witches, and other various supernatural entities that want to destroy the world of man for no other reason than to spill blood.

As Alice and Hellboy are given a guide to hurry them along on their journey, the guide keeps calling Hellboy an Englishman. Even though Hellboy corrects him, the guide continues to call him that even as the guide betrays him and he is once again led into a trap. As Mignola keeps dropping hints to the reader, it seems as though the entire supernatural community knows about Hellboy’s current predicament and his linage. All except Alice and Hellboy himself.

As the plot continues on, the reader is introduced to Morgan Le Fay. Historically, Morgan Le Fay is the half-sister of King Arthur. She is also the mother of Arthur’s bastard son Mordred. In Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory (the last real Arthur tale), Mordred and Arthur killed each other. It’s one of the most revealing and violent tales of the Arthur legend, as both Mordred and Arthur commanded large armies that completely decimated each other until only four men remained. Mignola capitalizes on this trend of violence and alludes to vastness of Arthur’s fallen army.

It is revealed that Hellboy’s mother, Sarah Hughes, is the descendant of Mordred. This makes Hellboy heir to the Excalibur and therefore the throne of England. This explains the first surprise attack that Hellboy suffered at the hands of the hunters. It also explains the guide that kept referring to Hellboy as Englishman.

Morgan Le Fey is introduced into the plot for multiple reasons, key of which in this particular volume as exposition. She reveals that the Queen of Blood Nimue (a witch) has been resurrected and is orchestrating a war with men just to spill blood. She also tells Hellboy that he has to pull Excalibur out of the stone and raise Arthur’s undead army to fight and defeat the Queen. What the writer has done is recreate the tides of war that the Arthur legend often used; two armies preparing to fight in a confrontation between good and evil.

The Queen of Blood herself is a very simple character. Her hunger is for destruction and death. When she is resurrected, she arises from a pool of blood. The visual is a solid red naked woman dripping. Mignola uses this particular visual a lot in his work. It was even used in the first Hellboy movie.

Supernatural themes and conventions were not strangers in the Arthurian lore. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Green Knight is beheaded and continued to speak with his head detached from his body. The paranormal aspect of Hellboy and the supernatural elements of the Arthur legend fit together almost perfectly. The use of the Arthur legends works in favor of Mignola’s world and add depth to it. Mignola melds the two worlds together by having Hellboy pull Excalibur from the stone and essentially becomes the king of England. It’s a rather interesting turn in events. The writer brings the world of Arthur back to life while creating a new level to Hellboy’s own already complicated world.

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Nathan J. Harmon is a graduate of Missouri State University and teaches English in southwest Missouri

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