‘It needs to be nightmarish, hallucinogenic and scary’

Critic and Arthurian enthusiast Xan Brooks comments on the intertextual adventures of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in The Guardian:

‘I like this idea that Gawain is modern, somehow ahead of his time, complicated in a way that the other knights aren’t. It helps make sense of the man’s personality; what the Arthurian scholar Ryan Harper describes as “the elasticity of his character”. Gawain is flexible, regenerative; the rubbery character actor of the Arthurian universe. He’s a supernatural bruiser in Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and an insubstantial gadfly in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King; a charming rogue in the BBC series Merlin and a cantankerous bulldog in John Boorman’s Excalibur. In most versions of the Camelot legend, Gawain dies at the end, struck down while battling Mordred’s army. But in The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro conspires to show us an old Gawain, the sole survivor of Arthur’s reign, years after England has slid back towards darkness. Finding him there was a happy surprise, like bumping into a long-lost friend on the street.’

‘Ad Putter is a professor of medieval English literature and co-editor of The Works of the Gawain Poet. He explains that the reason that Gawain is confusing is because he’s a composite, the result of centuries of rewriting and repurposing. In the initial Arthurian chronicles, written in England in the 12th century, he was presented as an upstanding hero, Arthur’s right-hand man. But in the French romances that followed, his reputation went downhill. He was a dandy, a flirt; a womaniser, a brute. “We have a name for this process – it’s called epic degeneration,” Putter says. “People tire of the old heroes and want new ones to replace them. And that’s what happened in the French romances. Suddenly Lancelot becomes top dog. Gawain is moved aside to make room for him.”

‘Putter calls it degeneration, but he may mean the opposite. In losing ground as a hero, Gawain enriched himself as a character. He was sweet in his youth and then deepened and darkened. In his many incarnations, he becomes as flawed and mercurial as any character created by Alice Munro or Philip Roth; as confounding and unruly as our closest friends and family.’

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2021/sep/26/the-green-knight-review-david-lowery-dev-patel-gawain

Book your place for our BookTalk discussion of The Green Knight: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/cardiff-booktalk-the-green-knight-registration-182773860537

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