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Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Important Arthurian Legends: Sir Gawain & the Green Knight

image from British Literature to 1800 blog

Many of the tales associated with Arthurian legend aren’t actually stories featuring Arthur. One of the most famous is that of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It originated as a 14th-century Middle English poem. Its original author (sometimes known as “The Pearl Poet”) is unknown, but it has been retold in many forms. The essence of the story is that of a knight on a quest.

A mysterious green knight appears at Camelot during a feast sometime around Christmas or New Year’s and offers up a challenge to the knights present. Sir Gawain takes up the challenge and chops off the head of the green knight. However, the knight then picks up his head, puts it back on, and informs Gawain that his half of the deal will be due in one year. The green knight then gets his turn to drop the axe on Gawain’s neck.

True to his word, Gawain sets out the next fall to find the Green Chapel, the home of the green knight. He has several adventures, but the most notable is meeting up with Lord Bertilak who puts Gawain up in his castle and promises to show him to the Green Chapel when the time is right. Gawain’s chivalry is tested by the lord’s tempting wife. Gawain passes the test which leads to him surviving the confrontation with the green knight. It turns out the green knight is actually Bertilak.

The tale is relevant to Otter and Arthur in that Gawain’s confrontation with the green knight – and a search for the Holy Grail – provides the inspiration for the as-yet unwritten third book in the series.


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