Title: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Translator: Bernard O’Donoghue
Published: 2013 (from the 14th century)
Language: English (translated from Middle English)
Penguin did it again. How can I ignore a beautifully designed series of medieval myths and legends? I don’t know about you, but I just can’t. In 2013 Penguin Classics published their Legends from the Ancient North series, with five sagas, myths and other tales that inspired J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. There isn’t a better way to sell your books – to me at least.
Now, I’m not really at home in the myths and legends department, but I do enjoy the occasional tragedy (hello, Shakespeare!) and heroic poem. It would come as no surprise then that Sir Gawain was right up my street. A little bit from the Penguin website:
Composed in the fourteenth century, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is as beloved as it is venerable, combining the hallmarks of medieval romance—pageantry, chivalry, and courtly love—with the charm of fairy tales and heroic sagas. When a mysterious green knight rides on horseback into King Arthur’s court, interrupting a New Year’s feast, he issues a challenge: if any of King Arthur’s men can behead him and he survives, then a year later he is entitled to return the strike. Sir Gawain takes up the challenge and decapitates the green knight, only to see him pick up his severed head and ride away, leaving Gawain to seek him out to fulfil their pact. Blending Celtic myth and Christian faith, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a Middle English masterpiece of magic, chivalry, and seduction.
Sounds about right! I really don’t have not much to add as everything is already pretty much in there. I had to read quite a few (fragments of) medieval poems and legends at high school, both in Dutch and English, and I always enjoyed the themes that were explored in these texts. The story was very readable, thanks to Bernard O’Donoghue’s translation, and an extensive introduction gives you some historical context.
If you enjoy Tolkien’s work and are interested in medieval myths and legends (which are, by the way, not all Norse as the series implies), than this is something for you. I haven’t read any of the other four books in the series, but I think I will also enjoy Beowulf very much. In fact, that may be even the next book I’m going to pick up!