February 24, 2012

No "Blah" Like the Present, and a Resulting Review

I am suffering from the "blah"s after a long, exhausting day of SuperToddler SuperTerribleTwos.  To be perfectly honest, trying to catch up on my enormous backlog of book reviews doesn't sound like the most exciting way to overcome these Mommy Blues, but there it is--some people feel compelled to eat chocolate, I get overwhelming drives to write.  Notice I didn't say "an overwhelming DESIRE to write".  Sometimes, I write even when I really don't want to.  It's like my brain gets taken over by little hobgoblins with quills and parchment in their hands or something, and I simply must write.

So, what say we review one of those books that I've been putting off too long while the goblins are hammering away in my head?

A Review of the Medieval Poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, composed by some unknown medieval Englishman who thought that King Arthur, if he ever existed, was a fellow Englishman, instead of a Welsh Celt, by JNCL

Okay, confession time (and a bit of a mini-spoiler, but only a very little one).  For years, whenever I heard the title of this book, I always assumed that the phrase "green knight" refered to the coat of arms of the knight in question.  I thought his shield must be predominantly green, and thus his tunic and his horse's caparison would be, as well.  "Huh?"  Right.  Let me give you a picture of a "caparison," so you'll know what the Hell I'm talking about. 

See how the horse is completely covered in a draping cloth that has his rider's coat of arms worked on it?  That's a caparison.  (Triple word score with this picture, actually, because it also shows you what a coat of arms is, and how both horse and knight wore pictures of the arms into battle, or at least, into tournaments.)  Now you can see why I used to think that the knight was just called "green" because he was probably wearing a lot of green, and would just have appeared green all over.  NOPE.  I was wrong.  The knight who ends up challenging the brave Sir Gawain to a duel of sorts is ACTUALLY GREEN.  Green as lettuce.  His hair is green.  His beard is green.  His skin, and his horse's skin, are green.  Completely green horse, mane, tail and all.

This medieval romance has many of the expected elements of the French, courtly, chivalric romances, clearly reflecting the Anglo-Norman society that developed in England after the Norman Conquest and its obsession with Arthurian legends.  The primary enjoyment I get out of reading books like this is what they reveal about the culture that produced them.  I find it fascinating to discover what such a culture's ideals were, what they thought SHOULD HAVE mattered to them, and even more fun to find out what ACTUALLY mattered to them instead!  There are more column inches of text devoted to butchering fresh hunting kills in this book than to any other single subject, despite all the talk of Marian religious devotion and chivalric knightly behavior.  Sir Gawain might be brave, bold and virtuous, but it's clear that the poet is REALLY impressed by the guy who brings home the venison.

Anyway, if you like Arthurian romance, you should definitely look up this one.  And if you want to make both seem even much funnier, read this book and then immediately afterwards watch "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."  You may need an oxygen mask to help you recover!


  1. Sorry there's been so much sickness in your house, it's never good. I've heard of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in recent years, but haven't got to reading it as yet. A friend of mine just loves it. I would have expected the Green Knight to wear green too, rather than be green, but there you go, it just makes it more interesting I think.

  2. The Green knight is "the green man " of pagan folklore. He is symbolic of nature and spring and new growth, therefore green. His death is symbolic of winter and is temporary.The story of gawain and the green knight is symbolic of the conflict between Christianity and paganism.

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