Monday, September 14, 2015

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight -- Continued

King Arthur -- book jacket
Click here to read Part One of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

In the first part of the story, King Arthur was holding a New Year's feast, when into the mighty hall galloped a great green steed with a green rider. The Green Knight challenged Arthur to strike him with an axe — on one condition Should he somehow survive, Arthur must come to the Green Chapel in a year and a day and let the Green Guy take his turn with the axe. But a brave young knight — Sir Gawain — stepped up and took Arthur's place.

Gawain swung the axe and kerplunk! The Green Knight's head rolled. But then, to everyone's surprise, the challenger picked up his head, and the head continued to speak: "Don't forget. You must come to me in a year and a day, to finish this contest."

At the time appointed, Gawain mounted his horse and rode to a great castle near the Green Chapel. There he was greeted by the lord and lady, Bertilak de Hautdesert and his wife, Mrs. de Hautdesert. There was another resident at the castle as well  an ill-mannered old hag, who was not introduced. Remember her, for she will come into the tale later, as old hags are wont to do.

Sir Gawain, fresh from the Pearl Poet's typewriter
On three consecutive days, Sir Hautdesert went hunting. Before leaving on the first day, Sir H. made a bargain with Sir G. At the end of each day, Sir. Hautdesert would give Gawain whatever he bagged on his hunt, if Gawain would also give to him whatever he acquired during the day.

A hunt, in medieval times
And this, Dear Reader, is where things get weird — just in case a big green man who comes back to life after a beheading isn’t weird enough already.

Each day, while Sir H. was out hunting, Mrs. Sir H. tried to seduce Gawain, but each day Big G. resisted her wiles. At the end of the first day, Mr. H gave Gawain his catch, and Gawain gave Hautdesert a kiss — for Mrs. H. was only able to give the knight a kiss — which he returned to her husband. (I told you it was weird.) 

On the second day, Sir H. gave Gawain his catch, and Gawain gave him two kisses, compliments of Mrs. H. 

Hautdesert's wife tempts Gawain
On the third day, Mrs. H. continued her attempt to compromise Gawain's virtue, but she also offered him a gold ring — which he refused. Then she begged him to take her girdle. She promised that it was enchanted and it would protect him in combat. This was far more tempting to Gawain, since he would soon face the the Jolly Green Giant in battle. He took the girdle, and that night he presented to Sir. H. three kisses—but he kept the girdle a secret.

Finally, Gawain must leave the safety and hospitality of the castle and ride to the nearby Green Chapel, with the girdle wrapped twice around his waist. There he found his nemesis, the Green Knight, sharpening his axe.  Bravely, Gawain offered his neck to his opponent. Perhaps he remembered the sound of the knight's head rolling across the floor and wondered if his head would make the same sound.

The Green Knight swung his blade once, twice, three times — but he was only able to nick Gawain’s neck, not sever his head. 

Then pooooooof! The Green Knight revealed himself to be Sir Hautdesert, who had used magic to change his appearance. And the old hag at his castle turned out to be Arthur’s jerk-face sister, Morgan le Fey, who had decided to test King Arthur’s knights. Should have known! If anything bad happens in Camelot, she usually has something to do with it.

Morgan le Fey, in her high school year book

Sir Gawain rode home to Camelot, still wearing the green girdle as a symbol of his shame that he had failed in his resolve to accept nothing offered by Lady H. His fellow knights, however, congratulated him on his success, and they all vowed that thereafter they would wear green girdles to celebrate their comrade's bravery. 

Gawain had faced his worst fears and come out alive.

The Pearl Poet, author of this tale,
poses for his book jacket

For all of you lovers of chivalric tales, the Stark Raving Mythopath recommends:

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Arthurian Legends, Barnes & Noble books 


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; Pearl;  Sir Orfeo--translated by J. R. R. Tolkien.

1 comment:

  1. I've read a lot of the Arthurian legend stories, but I don't remember this one! How fun!