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A Knight’s Tale: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Synopsis by Danielle Rosvalley

Most notable within the poem is a tension between Paganism and Christianity, as presented by the title tension between Sir Gawain (a Christian Knight) and the unnamed-until-the-end Green Knight. The story is actually a Christmas story; the Green Knight appears in Arthur’s Court while the Court is celebrating Christmas and the challenge the Green Knight offers is a “Christmas game” (verse 13 line 282). Christmas, the ultimate Christian appropriation of Pagan festivals, thus sets the stage for the poem’s primary contention.

Green, a color long associated with hills, dales, grass, and in general “that nature stuff” seems a fitting color for the champion of Paganism. Anyone with a shrewd eye and a background in fantasy literature will spot the Green Knight’s true identity within the poem’s first fit. When he enters Arthur’s court, he “in height outstripped all earthly men” (verse 7 line 137) and seems to be “half a giant on earth” (verse 7 line 139). He is clearly not a man of mundane or earthly origins, if he was the anonymous poet wouldn’t have taken such care to wrap his imagery in otherworldly qualities. In addition, the bargain which the Green Knight offers is that whomever strikes him shall have “a year and a day’s reprieve” (verse 13 line 96-97) before being struck in return. A year and a day is, traditionally, a fairy bargain. As if there were any doubt of the Green Knight’s supernaturalness, the issue is clinched when, after Gawain chops his head off in one stroke, Mister Green calmly picks his head off the ground and addresses the court Headless Horseman style reminding Gawain of the bargain they have made before riding out gallantly, head tucked underneath his arm. It is revealed at the end of the poem after Gawain receives his due punishment that the Green Knight is Bertilak of the High Dessert in service to Morgan Le Fay who lent him magic and sent him on his journey to Arthur’s court to test the Round Table (see verses 98-99). The Green Knight is definitively a Knight of the Fairies.

Read the original article at: Dithyramb of the Black Swan

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