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Versions of Sir Gawain
on 12 June 2010
I had previously spent rather a lot of money on a splendid Folio Society edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in a translation by Simon Armitage. It is a very fine edition, a beautiful artifact, but the translation is a bit too folksy and demotic. Armitage is a man of his time, and his modern vernacular style jars with ancient poem. The Tolkien version, which I ordered on the recommendation of my friend and colleague Dan Hannan, and which I am reviewing, is as different as chalk from cheese. Physically, it's no more than an ordinary little paperback. But unlike Armitage, Tolkien is by no means a man of his time. He is a man of a very different time, and his glorious language suits the period and the ambience of the poem. It gives a real feeling, a real insight into the mediaeval text. Nothing jars, nothing feels out of place. Toklein's rendering is a triumph and a delight, and while I shall value the Folio edition as an object, I shall prefer the Tolkien as literature.