King in the mountain

King in the mountain

A king in the mountain, king under the mountain or sleeping hero is a prominent motif in folklore and mythology, that is found in many folktales and legends. The Antti Aarne-classification system for folktale motifs classifies these stories as number 766, relating them to the tale of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.

General features

King in the mountain stories involve legendary heroes, often accompanied by armed retainers, sleeping in remote dwellings, including caves on high mountaintops, remote islands, or supernatural worlds. The hero is frequently a historical figure of some military consequence in the history of the nation where the mountain is located.

The stories gathered by the Brothers Grimm concerning Frederick Barbarossa and Charlemagne are typical of the stories told, and have been influential on many told variants and subsequent adaptations. The presence of the hero is unsuspected, until some herdsman wanders into the cave, typically looking for a lost animal, and sees the hero. The stories almost always mention the detail that the hero has grown a long beard, indicative of the long time he has slept beneath the mountain.

In the Brothers Grimm version, the hero speaks with the herdsman. Their conversation typically involves the hero asking, "Do the eagles (or ravens) still circle the mountaintop?" The herdsman, or a mysterious voice, replies, "Yes, they still circle the mountaintop." "Then begone! My time has not yet come."

The herdsman is usually supernaturally harmed by the experience: he ages rapidly, he emerges with his hair turned white, and often he dies after repeating the tale. This occurrence is well-known from many stories about people entering caves and experiencing a different time scale than on Earth, suggesting a parallel dimension.

The story goes on to say that the king sleeps in the mountain, awaiting a summons to arise with his knights and defend the nation in a time of deadly peril. The omen that presages his rising will be the extinction of the birds that trigger his awakening. [Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, "Deutsche Sagen" (1816/1818), no. 23.] [ [ "Kaiser Karl im Untersberg"] (German)]


A number of kings, rulers, and fictional characters and religious figures have become attached to this story. They include:

* King Arthur (England, Wales)
* Merlin of the Arthurian legend, who is imprisoned in an oak tree by Nimue.
* Bran the Blessed (Wales)
* Csaba, the son of Attila the Hun (Hungary) who is supposed to ride down the Milky Way when the Székelys are threatened.
* King Matthias Corvinus (Hungary)
** Kralj Matjaž (Slovenia)
* Emperor Charlemagne (Germany, France)
* Emperor Constantine XI of the Eastern Roman Empire, a.k.a. the "Immortal Emperor turned to marble" (Greece) (a similar story, although Constantine was said to be turned into a statue, not to be resting in a mountain.)
* Fionn mac Cumhaill (Ireland)
* Ogier the Dane (Danish: "Holger Danske", Denmark)
* Sir Francis Drake (England)
* Owain Lawgoch
* Owain Glendower
* Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (Germany)
* King Henry the Fowler (Germany)
* The legendary Moravian king Ječmínek will, according to a prophecy, return to save his country from enemies. [ Alois Jirásek, Old Bohemian Legends (1894, Staré pověsti české)]
* An unnamed giant is supposed to sleep in Plynlimon in Wales.
*Giewont massif which is said to be a sleeping knight (Poland)
* The remains of the Golem of Prague are said to be in the attic of the Old New Synagogue in Prague, and that it can be brought back to defend the Jewish people. (Jewish mysticism)
* Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare (Ireland)
* The Aztec hero-god Montezuma — believed to have been a divine king in prehistoric times, and suspended in an Arizona mountain that bears his image.
* Muhammad al-Mahdi
* Marko Kraljević (Serbia)
* King Olaf I (Norway)
* Väinämöinen, the protagonist of the Finnish national epic Kalevala. At the end of Kalevala, he leaves on a boat, promising to return when he is most needed.
* Sebastian I, (Portugal) (it is said by Sebastianists that the king will return in a hazy morning in time of need)
* The Sleeping Giant mountain in Connecticut, USA was said by the local Quinnipiac Indians to be the demon Hobbomock, sealed by the Great Spirit. One day he would supposedly awaken and destroy the world.
* The Sleeping Ute
* St. Stephen the Great (Sfântul Ştefan Cel Mare) Prince (Voievod) of Moldova (Romania)
* The poet and painter Taras Shevchenko (Ukraine), believed to be a supernatural hero ("xarakternyk"), is said to sleep under his grave mound in Kanev or even in the Kiev Pechersk Lavra.
* Tecumseh of the Shawnee
* William Tell (Switzerland)
* Theseus (Athens)
* Thomas the Rhymer is found under a hill with a retinue of knights in a tale from Scotland
* St. Wenceslas (Václav) of Bohemia (Czech Republic). He sleeps in the Blanik mountain and will emerge to protect his country at its worst time, riding on his white horse and wielding the legendary hero Bruncvík's sword. [ Alois Jirásek, Old Bohemian Legends (1894, Staré pověsti české)]
* Boabdil, last islamic prince of Granada.
* Bernardo del Carpio

The sleeping hero in popular culture

*J. R. R. Tolkien uses the king in the mountain in various places in his legendarium: the form of the Dead Men of Dunharrow, the armies and king of Númenor who are trapped by the Valar when Númenor is destroyed, and in the Second Prophecy of Mandos which states that the dead heroes Túrin and Beren would return to help to defeat Morgoth at the end of times. Although in the "Hobbit" the term 'King under the mountain' itself is used, it refers to a quite different context: the Dwarven king of Erebor
*A similar story appears in the 1989 movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where the sleeping hero is a knight from the Crusades, made immortal by the Holy Grail.
*A version of the sleeping hero legend is included in several entries in the Nintendo game franchise 'The Legend of Zelda', most explicitly in the Gamecube version, .
*American comic book icon Captain America fell into suspended animation at the end of World War II, only to be awakened in the modern era.
*American comic book super hero Captain Marvel from Fawcett Comics, after having been cancelled in 1953, was given a story where he (and most of his friends and his arch foes) was trapped in suspended animation for 20 years to explain his revival in 1973 by DC Comics.
*The Saint of Killers who appeared in the "Preacher" comic book was a civil war veteran turned gun fighter chosen to replace the Angel of Death. When the comic book begins he is sleeping in a hidden crypt under the Boothill graveyard.
*British author Susan Cooper makes use of the return of King Arthur as a plot element in The Dark Is Rising Sequence.
*Neal J. Iacono's 2001 novel "Dracula: Son of the Dragon" applies the King in the Mountain motif to Vlad Ţepeş.
*In music, a single by Kate Bush released on 24 October 2005 is named "King of the Mountain". This song connects popular beliefs about Elvis Presley's death, with references to Citizen Kane also, to the "King in the Mountain" motif.
*After his death in 1984, rumours arose that comedian Andy Kaufman would return from seclusion. These rumors were fueled by Kaufman himself, who joked about faking his death, only to return 20 years later.
*In the book "Marauders of Gor" (Book Nine of the Gor Series) by John Norman, the hero Torvald is supposed to return in times of need for a Viking-like civilization.
*In The Books of Magic, Timothy Hunter sees the mystical King in the mountain and talks to a minstrel who is guarding his grave.
*In Robert Jordan's "The Wheel of Time", heroes from ages past reside in the world of dreams until they are called forth to fight the Dark One.
*In Robin Hobb's Farseer series, skilled coteries from the past have used their own lives to create dragons that sleep in a mountain glade, to be awakened in times of need.
*In the The Sandman (Vertigo) comic series story arc World's End, 70s DC character Prez is recast as something of a Messianic figure to America.
*In the Transformers Marvel comic series, the Last Autobot, a final repository of some of the power of the Transformers' god Primus, waits at the center of Cybertron. Similarly, there is a prophecy that says that an Autobot will arise from the ranks and use the power of the Matrix of Leadership to "light their darkest hour".
*In "Star Trek", "Kahless the Unforgettable" is the Klingon version. In the TNG episode , "Rightful Heir," he is returned as a clone by ambitious prelates. The fact that this Kahless is a clone is discovered by the "Enterprise"'s Worf, who convinces the Klingon government to allow the clone to be installed as a figurehead emperor, a symbol to unite the fractured Klingon Empire.
*The novel series "The Dark is Rising" features six or seven "Sleepers" who wake at the call of the Light to ride against the Dark.
*In the film series "Gargoyles", the Gargoyles themselves are sleeping heroes, who awaken in twentieth-century New York City after many centuries of being imprisoned in stone.
*In the computer game Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne, the mountain king is a hero for the Human faction.


See also

*Seven Sleepers
*Rip van Winkle

External links

* [ a list of other sleeping hero legends]

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