(For Part 1 of this Let's Read, see here)
And we’re back!
Previously, we left off with the giant green doofus wrecking Arthur and company’s lovely banquet. I’m not sure how long it took to cook that meal, but if I was the chefs, I would be pissed. Regardless, the mean, lean, green killing-machine challenged the knights to a ridiculous bet involving blows to the head (and no, not that kind of blow or head) and the only one incompetent enough to fall for the trolling was Gawain. So, here we are, about a year later and Gawain must head off on his quest to receive his blow (DON’T SNICKER!).
“Our endings rarely square with our beginnings” (20).
So, this is actually sweet and prepares the reader a bit for the surprise ending. It seems to me a bit of a meta commentary on the nature of story-telling itself. Yet, in another sense it is conventional; if the ending was “squared” with our beginnings, after all, then it would be complete absurdity like when the Green Knight came, so this unexpected affair reinforces the expected when looked at from the point of story-telling. Weird, eh?
“Till All Hollows’ Eve Day he stays with Arthur” (21)
This page is filled with evocative environmental descriptions and reminds one that before Tolkein, Martin, or any other such modern pen took up fantasy with lush description, the Gawain-Poet was doing it first and much better. The sense of time passing and emotion is very well handled and should be studied by every poet who also considers themselves an amateur historian.
But, of the line quoted above, it is almost wicked that Gawain leaves on what we would call “Halloween”. It raises the mystical quality without it becoming overbearing. It adds a literary chill to the reader. It is dramatic but just so. A subtle touch to an incredible poem.
“Next dawn he dresses,” (22)
The dressing scene is interesting. His knightly uniform is brought in and he is robed in clothing and armor made from the best exotic, high-quality material. The Arthurian legend is European in orientation; it was crafted in unique social-materialistic periods by people responding to certain conditions and events. But, this tale, written by an anonymous British writer, makes one wonder at his life since he seems to have been privy to a wide-range of cultures in that the pieces of his suit are worked in unique ways.
“Clothed in this manner, he goes to hear mass” (23)
Of course. Being a good Christian knight, one must pray to God, especially if the quest one embarks upon has a high chance of his head being sliced off. Spiritual insurance is important, after all.
So, then he jumps on his horse, Gringolet, and heads out—hee-haw!
“It’s hard to tell a tenth part of them all. / Sometimes he wars with dragons, or with wolves;” (27)
Whoa, horsie, whoa… dragons and wolves he fights with—badass! Even more badass, though, is how the author saves us the displeasure of reciting this struggle.
It was pretty common for Arthurian tales to feature dragons. So, obviously, it was pretty common for knights to fight dragons; how else are you going to earn renown for your king? Why it’s different here, though, is that the normal foes are mentioned only for the author to just push them to the wayside. It would be like today if a young adult author writing a Teen Dystopia series include some kind of system of social division but then said, “nope, this system is actually good and the one morally upright thing the [EVIL GOVERMNET] did” instead of it being part of the driving force behind the conflict. It is a genre subversion and a clever one at that.
“And signed himself, and said: / ‘May Christ’s cross lend me speed!’ / Hardly he had made the sign three times / When, in the midst of the wood, he saw a moated castle” (29).
This is how you know it is fantasy—when God actually helps his followers achieve their goals (bazinga!). Actually, though, even for an Arthurian tale, this is pretty brazen for God and at least to my knowledge isn’t something which usually happens in this kind of narratological sense (aside from stories involving Perceval, of course). I guess that God truly is the ultimate “Ghost in the Machine”.
Regardless, Gawain enters the sizable and luxurious castle where the king greets him. Being a knight of Arthur has its perks, it seems: who needs a Bed and Breakfast when you got this?
In any case, what follows is a lengthy description of the castle (again) as well as the King. He is described as a rich and imposing fellow. Bring both bros Gawain and the King hit it off well; the king’s Queen is described as possibly even more beautiful than Arthur’s own (heresy!) and Gawain and company pray in the chapel.
“Let the whereabout of this Green Chapel worry you no longer” (39)
This should always raise eye-brows but because Gawain has been partying his nose off, he doesn’t seem to notice. Provide, he was feasting and drinking after a long travel so who can really blame him? Still, whenever a mysterious castle appears in the middle of the woods stocked with great supplies and a gracious king appears to slate your every need before saying that your destination is simply a short jot away… my sensey-sense would be tingling. Just a bit.
Before the chapter ends, though, the king makes a bargain with Gawain: whatever he catches while hunting will be Gawain’s while whatever Gawain finds in the castle will be given to the king. This includes not merely physical objects but emotional and sensual ones as well.
So, weird, right?
Being a doofus, though, Gawain uncritically accepts this bargain once and for all showing just how gullible people were before Facebook.