Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo
Ballantine Books, 1975 - Fiction - 165 pages
SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT, PEARL, and SIR ORFEO are masterpieces of a remote and exotic age--the age of chivalry and wizards, knights and holy quests. Yet it is only in the unique artistry and imagination of J.R.R. Tolken that the language, romance, and power of these great stories comes to life for modern readers, in this masterful and compelling new translation.
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I must admit that my experience with Arthurian legend is limited. But even so I found this tale of Sir Gawain to be unpredictable and fun. The ending also was surprisingly heartwarming. Sir Orfeo, the last poem in this book, was also fun to read. The rhyme and rhythm made the whole poem skip along, while the story itself was classic in every pleasurable way. Pearl, the middle poem of the three, was the only one I did not really like. There were two reasons. First, as Tolkien himself notes in the introduction, the person who wrote Pearl had only a basic understanding of Christian theology. That would be fine except that Pearl is meant to be a theological treatise similar in some way to Dante's own comedy. The way the author understands some aspects of Christianity and the Apocalypse were a stretch even for the classic period of Christianity. The second thing that bothered me was how hard the author pushed the idea of Pearl (and other maidens) being the Bride of Christ. My discomfort with all that bridal talk though has everything to do with the fact I'm living in a time far distant from when this poem was written. It's difficult for me to separate the idea of marriage from the act of sex. So all this talk of brides and bridal chambers when the bride herself was a two year old child and the husband was God felt very disconcerting to me. Still, I gave the work four stars because I think most of the trouble was on my end rather then the author's.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Appendix on Verseforms