Monday, September 7, 2015

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Random castle to set the mood. . . .

King Arthur

Bright banners streamed from the vaulted ceiling in a riot of color. The Lute and Lizard Jazz Band played a mashup of medieval hits. The air was heavy with the smells of roasted stag, meat pies, and plums stewed in rosewater. It was New Year’s Day in Camelot, and King Arthur’s Court was drinking and merry-making. Arthur and Gwenivere sat at the king’s table, surrounded by knights and courtiers and a starry-eyed poet or two.

Arthur asked if anyone had an adventure to share before the feasting began. At that moment, into the Great Hall galloped a green stallion, ridden by a Green Knight  even his skin was green. In one hand, he held a battle axe; in the other, a holly bough.

Big Green issued a challenge to Arthur: "Strike me one time with this axe. If I somehow survive the blow, then you must agree to meet with me in a year and day at the Green Chapel. At that time, I will strike you."

King Arthur was on the verge of accepting this challenge, when his nephew—Sir Gawain—stepped up and accepted in the king's stead.

With a mighty blow, Sir Gawain swung the axe, decapitating the Green Knight. Surely that was the end of the matter. But the Green Knight picked up his head and the head continued the conversation. After reminding Gawain of the terms of their agreement, the Green Knight rode away on his emerald steed.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Impending doom must have weighed on Gawain during the year that followed, but being a true and courageous Knight of the Round Table, he tried to put on a brave face. Still, green leaves budded and red and yellow leaves fell, as day followed day. Finally, snow fell on bare branches, and it was time for Gawain to keep his promise to the Green Knight, to ride away, not knowing if he would ever see his home and loved ones again.

Will Gawain survive his next encounter with Big Green? And who the heck is this mysterious Green Knight? 

The answer to the first question will have to wait until next week when we finish the story. As for the question of the Green Knight's identity — scholars and readers have been debating that for centuries.

Some say the Green Knight is the Green Man, who appears in sculpture and architecture as a leafy face — or a face hidden among leaves — a figure frequently referenced or spoofed in literature. The Green Man is usually seen as a symbol of rebirth. Others say the Green Knight is a Christ figure. Often in Bible stories, a mysterious stranger is an angel or an incarnation of the Divine. Of course, the Pearl Poet (author of this story) may have had something else in mind than either of these.

A Green Man sculpture
Maybe next week, we'll find the answers to our questions. Or maybe we'll just find more questions. Either way, it's a fascinating story that, though centuries old, continues to inspire readers and writers in the twenty-first century.

The Green Knight, pictured in
The Boy's King Arthur
The plot thickens. Read Part II of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by clicking here.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating! A Green Knight, huh? Note: Never saw a Green Man who looked content, peaceful...even in Rosslyn Chapel with hundreds popping out of all the stone work...perhaps he should try eating lots more non-soluble greens??