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Before We Make Another King Arthur Movie, Consider These Legendary Heroes Instead

Don't myth out on these tales!

 

"Cuchulain in Battle", illustration by J. C. Leyendecker in T. W. Rolleston's Myths & Legends of the Celtic Race, 1911

Earlier this week we discussed Zack Snyder’s desire to direct his own version of the King Arthur myth. Now, that could be good or bad depending on the execution, but my main thought on hearing this news was  … why? Why do another King Arthur movie when there are so many other legendary heroes that haven’t had their shot at an on-screen adaptation? We’ve had various clashes of titans and endless Arthurian tales but there are so many ancient heroes who we haven’t seen on screen, and that needs to change.

So here are four heroes whose stories would make great movies or epic prestige television.

Fionn mac Cumhaill

Despite how it’s typically written, this Irish hero’s name is widely pronounced “Finn McCool” and honestly that name alone deserves an adaptation on screen. Finn’s myth is popular in Ireland and also pops up in Wales and Scotland because, well, he’s just that cool. But his story is so dramatic and full of adventure that it’s perfect fodder for a modern adaptation.

Like all the stories we’ll get into here, there’s a lot to the myths of Fionn/Finn and I can’t go into them fully. But short version: Finn was the son of a great warrior who died before he was born, he was maybe raised by a druidess name Bodhmall and a female warrior friend who was maybe her wife called Liath Luachra. Just that right there is a whole season of television.

Finn eventually grows up, gains magical wisdom from an incident with some magic salmon and thumbsucking (yes, it’s weird and also it’s not the only time this happens in Celtic myth), Finn eventually takes over the band of warriors his father once led, which was run by the guy who killed Finn’s dad. Drama! He also marries a woman who’s under a curse from an evil druid or fairy to turn into a deer and has a magical kid. It’s all rich, fascinating stuff and it’s sort of amazing we haven’t seen it much on screen, though there was a punk musical about him.

Cú Chulainn

Another Irish hero from a different area, Ulster, and with a more violent story, is Cú Chulainn. His story is extremely complicated and tied in with the old Irish gods and goddesses, particularly The Morrigan, curses, and the theft of a magic cow (this is cooler than it sounds). Here’s a great summary of his story from Overly Sarcastic Productions.

One thing this video doesn’t note is that at least three and perhaps more of the dangerous women Cú Chulainn deals with are all different aspects of The Morrigan, the Irish goddess of battle, magic, prophecy, and more.

Cú Chulainn’s story has a lot to it, but it has all the elements of great myth: he’s the child of a god, Lugh, which is already a big deal and he has a glorious destiny that he will be a great warrior, but die young. He’s trained as a child by a Scottish warrior woman named Scathach, along with his best friend, Ferdiad. Just with these two, there’s so much drama, because they help Scathach defeat her evil sister but eventually, Cú Chulainn has to fight and kill Ferdiad.

Oh and then there’s the part where he goes into a battle rage called a “warp spasm” in some translations where his body turns itself inside out and he single-handedly defeats an army. He’s basically the Hulk but grosser and the only way the other Ulstermen (who can’t fight because they’re cursed with labor pains … for reasons) get him to chill out is by having all the women flash their boobs at him so he avert his eyes and they’re able to throw him in several barrels of water. At some point his head literally explodes but he’s fine until he fully pisses off the Morrigan and she brings about his downfall.

Get on this, Hollywood.

Gilgamesh

Considering that The Epic of Gilgamesh is, ya know, the first written story ever its kind of weird that there haven’t been any memorable movies made of it, at least over here in America. Gilgamesh’s adventures are as rich as The Odyssey or The Illiad, with gods, monsters, demons, floods, and a seriously epic bromance between Gilgamesh and his sidekick/best friend Enkidu. Not only is Gilgamesh literally the oldest story we humans have access to right now, but it’s also good and has universal themes about the search for immortality, morality, and the role of leadership and kings.

The Epic of Gilgamesh comes to us from Ancient Sumeria and begins in the city of Uruk, located in modern Iraq. That means if Hollywood were to take on this story the only correct way to do it would be to have an entirely Middle Eastern cast. You can’t do it any other way and so if we were to get a Gilgamesh series of movies, I don’t want anyone touching it without people behind and in front of the camera from that area of the world. But that’s another thing that would make it great. Our legendary onscreen heroes in Western Cinema would really benefit by not just being white guys or white guys pretending to be Middle Eastern guys (I’m looking at you Christian Bale and Jake Gyllenhaal).

Mwindo

Speaking of non-white legendary heroes, let’s talk about Mwindo. I hadn’t heard of him until very recently and that makes me sad because Mwindo is awesome. The story Mwindo is a Congo epic that was mainly passed down through oral tradition, and because of colonialism, racism, and other garbage, many European and American folks, especially white folks, just weren’t aware of it. I discovered it through Overly Sarcastic productions, but here’s another summary from Crash Course.

We need to talk about this guy because Mwindo is right up there with all the great heroes of legend. He has a magical birth and serious daddy issues for one! Mwindo’s dad wants him dead before he’s even born because he doesn’t want any sons (he’d rather have daughters and make money from the bride prices). But Mwindo is born with, among other things, a magic conga-scepter (basically a fly swatter) that pretty much makes him a superhero.

Mwindo grows up far from his bad dad but eventually comes home and they have a lot of confrontations which leads to Mwindo chasing dad down into the underworld and killing and resurrecting (with his magic flyswatter) many folks along the way. The story is funny, exciting, and most importantly, ends with Mwindo actually learning a little humility and living out his days happily.

And again, how cool would it be to have an African epic story as a movie or show? Most American audiences only known Anansi when it comes to African lore and that’s a shame because there is so much, as you can see from this incredible story.

I could go on and on with other legends that would make great movies or series, but I think it’s clear that we don’t need to keep returning to the same Arthurian or even Greek well when it comes to epic stories with gods and monsters and magic and swords. Just sometimes the swords can be a magic flyswatter and that makes it even cooler.

(image: “Cuchulain in Battle”, illustration by J. C. Leyendecker, WikiMedia Commons)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.