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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Penguin Classics) Kindle Edition
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King Arthur, his wife Guinevere, and the Knights of The Round Table are celebrating Christmas and New Year at the famous castle 'Camelot'. One evening a huge knight on horseback bursts into the Hall during dinner, brandishing a large and fearsome battle-axe. Everything about him is green, not only his armor - as one might expect - but also his face, his hair, and even his horse. He has come in peace as he is advertising more than once. In short he says: who is bold enough to step forward and try to chop my head off with this battle-axe? But after one year and a day it will be my turn to deal a blow. Gawain, one of the Knights of The Round Table, steps forward, takes the axe and beheads the Green Knight. As if nothing happened the Green Knight picks up his head, takes it under his arm and the head says: a year and one day from now it will be my turn to give you a blow. You have to promise that you will come looking for me. You can find me at the Green Chapel ( It's almost a joke but who knows? Maybe this is all just a joke ). If you survive my blow I will give you a great reward. The Knight doesn't want to say where the Green Chapel can be found. It's far away from here but you will find people who can show you the way. And remember, you promised. And so the adventure begins for Gawain. He has to go without a companion. He stands on his own for that was a part of the deal.
This Fantasy element is the only one in the story. Everything else is realistic. That could be an indication that some scholars are right when they say that the Green Knight is a symbol for the reviving of Nature after the winter. There is a parallel between this symbolism and Gawain who's becoming more mature as the story unfolds. Throughout the story he's tempted in many ways to betray his vow of chastity and loyalty to the Virgin Mary, and near the end of the story he's tempted into cowardice. After all is said and done Gawain has a more realistic view on knighthood. He becomes adult and reaches a new stage in his life just like the revival of Nature by the Green Knight.
One of the things I like in this medieval romance are the hunting scenes described very vividly and in great detail. It starts with a description of the animal they want to hunt down: its strong and weak points. During the chase it is as if you can hear the horns blow and the shouts of the hunters, the barking of the hounds and the grunting of the wounded animal and it ends with the cutting of the meat after the bowels are given to the hounds as a reward.
Bernard O' Donoghue has done a very fine job in translating this little masterpiece of medieval literature. It's a vivid and a very readable verse translation of this engrossing adventure.
A Modern English prose translation is provided opposite, but note that there is little in the way of scholarly analysis therein. There is a brief introduction and a synopsis, and some brief end notes over a few pages pertaining to particular lines of the poem itself, but oddly no Middle English glossary.
Any serious student would probably be advised to get hold of the Gordon/Tolkien work, though it's possible that other texts with a proper scholarly analysis plus glossary have appeared in the interim which I don't know about.
This one only provides a useful re-telling of the story in modern English, it is not a poem. It may be useful as an accompaniment to the original middle English version if you are finding the archaic language difficult to follow, as the story line is easy to follow here and this is fairly short so can be read very quickly. There are some useful notes too, explaining the author's decisions when translating into prose etc. If you just want an easy prose version of the poem then this is fine but if you are studying Gawain and the Green Knight and looking for a modern translation go for Simon Armitage.
If you want the original poem there is a scholarly edition by Tolkein and Gordon or Everyman do a version which prints the medieval text in modernised spelling with marginal notes to accompany the text.Sir Gawain And The Green Knight/Pearl/Cleanness/Patience (Everyman's Library (Paper))
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