I joined the classics challenge a few weeks ago promising to read at least three classics and one retelling. First up for was the epic poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The poem tells the tale of Sir Gawain of the Round Table and his challenge of the Green Knight. During the first celebration of King Arthur’s reign the Green Knight (an immortal) rides to the castle in order to trade blows with a worthy knight. It is an old Irish challenge based on the epic Fled Bricrend in which the hero Cuchulain plays a game with a immortal being called Uath. Cuchulain strikes Uath in the neck causing him to lose his head. Uath picks up his head but comes back the next day. Cuchulain being the good hero offers his head. Uath strikes Cuchulain but leaves his head intact and declares Cuchulain the winner for being honest enough to offer up his head.
The Green Knight challenges Arthur’s knights as a way to honor Arthur as the new King of the land. To the embarrassment of the court no knight stands up. Arthur finally does to show the Green Knight respect. Sir Gawain is horrified that Arthur would offer his life for the knights so he takes his place. He tells Arthur “I am the weakest, the most wanting in wisdom I know, And my life, if lost, would be least missed, truly. Only through your being my uncle I am to be valued”. Sir Gawain then offers the Green Knight his word that he will offer his head as part of the game. Sir Gawain strikes the knight and all watch as the head rolls away from the body. The body then picks up the head and turns it to Sir Gawain saying “in one year’s time come to my castle to finish the game.
The story is about Sir Gawain’s travel to the knight’s land. He does not know exactly where the knight lives so he stops at a castle to ask directions. It is in this castle and what happens in it is where the bulk of the story takes place.
I enjoyed the story in its poem form far more than I thought I would. The words flowed and the language was easy to understand. I found myself so absorbed in the story I finished it in one sitting. The story was a lesson on honesty and valor. This is one classic read I would recommend, for the sheer joy of reading a poem that feels like a novel. Why don’t they write books like this anymore?