Posts Tagged Gawain

a quest


We got the bare bones – Arthur, the Round Table, the sword Excalibur, Avalon, Camelot, Guinevere – from a cheap book called “Children’s Treasury”: King Arthur and His Knights Illustrated by Harry Threaker (the author’s name was not on the book). Sam luckily wasn’t bothered by the sentimental style:

“Never was there so handsome and so special a young mornarch! Not only did all the knights and ladies of his court think the world of him, but the fairies of the forests and lakes loved him, too. Had he not been given into the special care of Merlin, that master of magic, who knew a hundred times more secrets than the fairies knew themselves?”

And then we struck gold. I ordered a book called Sir Gawain, His Squire and his Lady (actually number 2 in a series called Squire’s Tales) by Gerald Morris. It’s an excellent children’s retelling, recasting from the squire’s point of view, of Gawain and the Green Knight, with of course much taken out, but also a lot added in. It’s meant for older children than Sam (just coming up to 8 in two days’ time), but with a few words changed or explained, and a bit of patience with the romance (in the modern sense of the word) we have found the Grail!

Naturally there are things that didn’t suit my taste – for instance Guinevere’s total weakness for Lancelot – but there’s none of the fayness or mawkishness of the “Children’s Treasury” one. The characters are unsentimental. And at the same time while there are a lot of liberties taken with the old stories there is also a respect for their weight and meaning. It comes through in the “Author’s Note”:

When I was in college during medieval times, about 1982; Dr Laura Crouch required my English literature class to read a poem called Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It was the most wonderful story I had ever encountered. I loved its brave and courteous hero, and was fascinated by the otherworldly scene at the Green Chapel. I loved the poem so much that I wrote a long and very complicated research paper on it, and like many of those who write about literature, I managed to footnote away all the poem’s charm and to make Sir Gawain and the Green Knight seem as dull and pretentious as I was.

Well, I did no irreparable damage. My paper is long forgotten, but the poem is still around. All the same, some of the things I learned while researching that paper are still interesting to me and may be to others. So, at the risk of being boring twice on the same subject (an unforgivable sin), here is some background to the original work on which this book is based.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written by an anonymous poet in the fourteenth century, at about the same time that the great English poet Geoffrey Chaucer was writing The Canterbury Tales. The Gawain poet, however, wrote in a completely different dialect of English than Chaucer…”

We’ve been reading bits on our myriad journeyings, moving belongings to our new house, going off on holiday in the north. We’ve ended up working our way through the series. The first book is about Gawain too – or perhaps about his squire, Terrence. This one has elements of the “Loathely Lady” tale in it too.

And, again, sometimes I have to leave off at a really exciting bit, and Sam has to pick the book up himself…


Comments (4)

more on Gawain


Somehow Michael Morpurgo keeps some of the poetry of the telling.


Here is another translation – as a small sample – of the bit where the lady of the castle comes to tempt and test Gawain while the lord is out hunting. Gawain pretends to be asleep and …

Then he straightened and stretched and stirring toward her
he opened his eyes and acted astounded.
Then he crossed himself as if he claimed protection
from that sight –

Her chin and cheeks were sweet,
lending red and white;
er voice a pleasant treat
here small lips smiled delight.

Now and again I look at the original – which would be impossible for me to read – and spot a few familiar words. Here’s the same bit in middle English:

Þen he wakenede, and wroth, and to hir warde torned,
And vnlouked his y3e-lyddez, and let as hym wondered,
And sayned hym, as bi his sa3e þe sauer to worthe,
with hande.

Wyth chynne and cheke ful swete,
Boþe quit and red in blande,
Ful lufly con ho lete
Wyth lyppez smal la3ande.

I’ve just spotted a cartoon version on youtube – which has the defect of being over much too quickly – I hate to lose any of the details of the story:
(looking at it again there’s lots that I like in the original that’s not there – but well done to ’em for making it)

Comments (1)



I had told Sam the story of Gawain and the Green Knight before, but I was looking forward to the time I could read the version by illustrious author Michael Morpurgo and authorial illustrator Michael Foreman.

Sam had to ask me the meaning of some of the chivalric technical terms –

“What does ‘honour’ mean?”
“What does ‘integrity’ mean?”

Had I not mentioned them before? Just as well we read the book.

A few points about the tale.

1. It’s one of my Favourites.
2. It – probably did not happen here.
3. It would be great dramatised.

Of course, Sam loved it. Now I want to find the best ones for us to jump onto next: the round table, Merlin, the sword in the stone, Camelot, Kay and Morgan le Fey… and of course a few more of those interesting words!

El pointed me to a good telling of this tale which is also sometimes told about Gawain too.

And where to go then?

I like the Parsifal – Grail story, but don’t know a good children’s version of that. The Lancelot – Guinevere story should have one too…

Leave a Comment