Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo


Book cover

I am a Tolkien fan and acquired this book years ago. I picked it up recently while casting about for something short to read. I was very pleasantly surprised by it. For something originally written in the Middle Ages, “Gawain” is an engaging read–I would say much more so than Tolkien’s translation of another Middle-Ages epic, “The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun.” I think a lot of the difference was just in the fact that “Gawain” comes from a culture that is recognizably “mine.” Even if the setting is quite different, the values and logic of Arthurian England are more or less similar to those of the dominant culture today, whereas the values and logic of “Sigurd”’s Nordic culture felt fairly unfamiliar. But, I will also give credit to the translator. The translation follows the alliterative verse form of the original, in a way that is very pleasant to read. Forced alliteration can often sound artificial and grate on the ear, but Tolkien’s verse form is fluid enough to avoid this fate; the alliteration is prominent enough to provide a noticeable rhythm, but it doesn’t take center stage. I think this would be a very nice book to read (listen to) aloud, which I’m sure JRRT would be happy to hear.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars