Rabbit of Caerbannog

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The Killer Rabbit attacks Lancelot

The Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog is a fictional beast in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail.[1] It is the antagonist in a major setpiece battle, and makes a similar appearance in Spamalot, a musical inspired by the movie.[2] The iconic status of this skit was important in establishing the viability of the musical.[3]

In the film[edit]

In the film, King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table are led to the Cave of Caerbannog by Tim the Enchanter, and find that they must face down both the Rabbit and the Black Beast. The Cave of Caerbannog ("caer bannog" being Welsh for "turreted castle") is the home of the Legendary Black Beast of Aaaaarrrrrggggghhhhh. This is guarded by a monster which is initially unknown.[4] King Arthur and his knights are led to the cave by Tim the Enchanter and find that they must face down its guardian beast. Tim verbally paints a picture of a terrible monster with "nasty, big, pointy teeth!" so terrifying that Sir Robin soils his armour. When the guardian appears to be an innocuous white rabbit,[5] surrounded by the bones of the fallen, Arthur and his knights no longer take it seriously. Ignoring Tim's warnings ("a vicious streak a mile wide!"), King Arthur orders Bors (the only appearance of this character in the film, who is played by Terry Gilliam) to chop its head off. Bors confidently approaches it, sword drawn, and is immediately decapitated by the rabbit biting clean through his neck, to the sound of a can opener. Despite their initial shock, Sir Robin soiling his armor (again), and Tim's loud scoffing, the knights attack in force, but are driven into flight as the rabbit leaps and attacks, killing Gawain and Ector with ease. This causes Arthur to panic and shout for the knights to retreat. The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch is then used instead to kill the beast and allow the quest to proceed.[6]

Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch[edit]

The Sovereign's Orb of the United Kingdom, which The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch satirises

The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch is a visual satire of a type of royal regalia known as a globus cruciger, specifically the Sovereign's Orb of the United Kingdom. The Sovereign's Orb similarly has a band of jewels running along the centre, and a half-band on the top hemisphere, with a cruciform at the crest. The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch is a reference to the mythical Holy Spear of Antioch. The supposed Holy Spear was unearthed from the floor of a Church during the Siege of Antioch (1098) by crusaders on the First Crusade, found by a poor and otherwise unknown monk named Peter Bartholomew.

Although unusually ornate in design, the Holy Hand Grenade functions like any other hand grenade. Particularly important is the part of counting to three after the pulling of the triggering pin (the surmounted cross), complicated by King Arthur's mental block on counting. The instructions for its use can be found in the fictitious Book of Armaments, Chapter 2, verses 9–21, parodying the King James Bible and the Athanasian Creed

...And Saint Attila raised the hand grenade up on high, saying, "O LORD, bless this Thy hand grenade that with it Thou mayest blow Thine enemies to tiny bits, in Thy mercy." And the LORD did grin and the people did feast upon the lambs and sloths and carp and anchovies and orangutans and breakfast cereals, and fruit bats and large chu... [At this point, the friar is urged by Brother Maynard to "skip a bit, brother"]... And the LORD spake, saying, "First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin, then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who being naughty in My sight, shall snuff it."[7]

Arthur then holds up the Holy Hand Grenade and cries out "ONE! TWO! FIVE!" Sir Galahad corrects him, shouting "Three, sir!".[7] Arthur then yells "THREE!" and hurls the grenade at the killer rabbit. The Grenade soars through the air, accompanied by a short bit of choral music, then bounces once and explodes. The killer rabbit dies in the explosion, and the Knights subsequently enter the cave that it had been guarding. The noise attracts the policemen who were investigating the dead historian's body.

Production[edit]

The rabbit scene was shot outside the Tomnadashan Mine[8] cave 4 miles from the Perthshire village of Killin. For the 25th anniversary DVD, Michael Palin and Terry Jones returned to be interviewed in front of the cave but they could not remember the location. They wandered up and down the hills for hours and, in desperation, asked the locals, saying that they couldn't miss it as it had a killer rabbit in it. This prompt was insufficient and so the couple performed a comic turn in front of the nearby loch to general amusement: "It was priceless stuff, and some of the looks they were getting were unbelievable."[9][10]

The rabbit was portrayed in the movie by a real rabbit and also a prop. The woman who owned the real rabbit was unhappy with the amount of fake blood in which it had been doused by the Python crew.[11]

Antecedents[edit]

The tale of the rabbit has a parallel in the early story of the Roman de Renart in which a foe takes hubristic pride in his defeat of a ferocious hare:[12]

Si li crachait en mi le vis
Et escopi par grant vertu

The idea for the rabbit in the movie was taken from the façade of the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. This illustrates the weakness of cowardice by showing a knight fleeing from a rabbit.[13]

Merchandise[edit]

The rabbit has been reproduced in the form of merchandise associated with the movie or musical. Such items include plush toys,[14] slippers[15] and staplers.[16] The plush killer rabbit was rated the second geekiest plush toy of all time by Matt Blum of the GeekDad blog on Wired.com, coming second to the plush Cthulhu.[17]

Reception[edit]

The rabbit was declared the top movie bunny by David Cheal in The Daily Telegraph.[18] It also ranked high in an Easter 2008 poll to establish Britain's best movie rabbit, coming third to Roger Rabbit and Frank from Donnie Darko.[19]

Cultural impact[edit]

The rabbit is now used as a metaphor for something ostensibly harmless which is, in fact, deadly.[20] Such hidden but real risks may even arise from similarly cuddly animals.[21] The humour of the skit comes from this inversion of the usual framework by which safety and danger is judged.[22] Four years after the release of the movie, Killer Rabbit was the term used widely by the press to describe the swamp rabbit that "attacked" the U.S. President Jimmy Carter while he was fishing on a farm pond.[23] This reference to the Monty Python sketch[24] symbolized the failings of a president who, to many, was seen as incapable, inept, and weak.[25]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Steven Gale (1996). Encyclopedia of British Humorists: Geoffrey Chaucer to John Cleese. Taylor & Francis. p. 155. ISBN 0-8240-5990-5. 
  2. ^ Ben Brantley (18 March 2005). "A Quest Beyond the Grail". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  3. ^ Eric Idle (2005). The Greedy Bastard Diary: A Comic Tour of America. New York: HarperEntertainment. p. 312. ISBN 0-06-075864-3. ""Will there be a Killer Rabbit?" "Yes." "Then I'm coming," he said, and went off gleefully shouting, "Ni!" Mike Nichols looked shocked. And impressed." 
  4. ^ Derek Albert Pearsall, Derek Pearsall (2003). Arthurian Romance: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub. p. 150. ISBN 0-631-23320-2. 
  5. ^ Brian Kaylor (2007). For God's Sake Shut Up!: Lessons for Christians on How to Speak. Macon, Ga.: Smyth & Helwys Pub. p. 22. ISBN 1-57312-485-0. 
  6. ^ Darl Larsen, William Proctor Williams (2003). Monty Python, Shakespeare and English Renaissance Drama. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. p. 69. ISBN 0-7864-1504-5. 
  7. ^ a b John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, Monty Python and the Holy Grail: The Screenplay, page 76, Methuen, 2003 (UK) ISBN 0-413-77394-9
  8. ^ Panoramio – Photo of Tomnadashan mine
  9. ^ Charles Lavery (20 August 2000). "Monty Python & The Holey Grail". Sunday Mail. p. 29. 
  10. ^ "Python's Killer Rabbit Search is a Holy Farce", Alastair Dalton, Scotland on Sunday, 20 August 2000, Pg. 3
  11. ^ `Mice' is new video release. Kansas City Star. 5 March 1993 
  12. ^ J. R. Simpson (1996). Animal Body, Literary Corpus: The Old French "Roman de Renart". Rodopi. pp. 156–157. ISBN 90-5183-976-6. 
  13. ^ Alan Parker, Mick O'Shea (2006). And Now for Something Completely Digital. New York: Disinformation. p. 66. ISBN 1-932857-31-1. 
  14. ^ "Killer Rabbit with Big Pointy Teeth". Toy Mania. Retrieved 2008-05-04. 
  15. ^ Lisa Traiger (9 June 2006). Killer Bunnies and Comedy In King Arthur's Court. Washington Post 
  16. ^ Mark Zaslove (November 2007). "Toy Sleuth: It’s a Big, Big World Minis and Scary Staplers Fight for the Spotlight". Toy Directory. 
  17. ^ The 10 Geekiest Plush Toys Money Can Buy. Wired. 22 September 2008 
  18. ^ Cheal, David (5 October 2006). Top five movie bunnies. London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 22 May 2010 
  19. ^ Alba (24 March 2008). The Diary. The Scotsman 
  20. ^ William W. Betteridge, James F. Niss, Michael T. Pledge (1975). Competition in Regulated Industries: Essays on Economic Issues. Center for Business and Economic Research, Western Illinois University 
  21. ^ Holger Breithaupt (2003). "Fierce creatures". EMBO Reports 4 (10): 921–924. doi:10.1038/sj.embor.embor949. PMC 1326407. PMID 14528257 
  22. ^ R Simpson (September, 1996). "Neither clear nor present: The social construction of safety and danger". Sociological Forum (Springer) 11 (3) 
  23. ^ Edward D. Berkowitz (2006). Something Happened: A Political and Cultural Overview of the Seventies. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. p. 115. ISBN 0-231-12494-5. 
  24. ^ Blake Aued (20 January 2007). Cheney hit hard on kickoff. Athens Banner-Herald 
  25. ^ Matthew Robert Kerbel (1991). Beyond Persuasion: Organizational Efficiency and Presidential Power. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press. p. 7. ISBN 0-7914-0693-8.