Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True by Gerald Morris

Of all the Arthurian tales, the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of my favourites.  I read the original in high school, and I found it so dramatic and vigorous and full of personality.   (Mind you, I also read and loved Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. That's full of personality in a different way.) Since then I've read a few different adaptations of Gawain's adventures,  including a Tolkien edition which I read not too long afterwards, and a children's version by Selina Hastings (she also wrote a great version of Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady, another fine tale).  Now Gerald Morris has come out with a chapter book version of the Green Knight Incident aimed at younger children (grades 2-4 is probably the target audience) as part of his Knights' Tales series.  These books bring a very fresh feeling to Arthurian stories for kids.   Morris's tone is a little like a Boy's Own Adventure story, but more literate.  It's respectful of its source material, down to earth, and full of cheerful humour.  It's also very clear and readable,  just right for emergent readers.  

"But what many do not realize is that, at least in King Arthur's court, knights were also expected to be very courteous and respectful.  The king was very clear about this:  He wanted no bullies at his Round Table.  In fact, he said that courtesy was even more important than wearing metal suits and bashing people from horses.  Not surprisingly, this notion took a while to sink in.  Knights who had spent their whole lives learning swordsmanship and pointy-stick-bashing did not always see how something else could be more important.  Indeed, King Arthur had reigned for several years before he felt that his knights were starting to get the idea."

Morris's story follows the trajectory of the original:  the Green Knight's challenge at King Arthur's Christmas Feast, Gawain's commitment to the Knight's beheading game, his year of wandering, his stay at the Green Knight's castle and the exchange of prizes (the kissing game is toned down a lot here) and finally his visit to the Green Chapel, where he discovers that the whole thing has been an elaborate test of his (and by extension, King Arthur's) chivalry and knightly honour.

I think what Morris does best is to turn these mythic characters into concrete personalities, characters which are not necessarily so lofty but who still do King Arthur's court proud.  Kids are going to root for these knights, and the books will lay a great foundation for appreciating more mature versions of these stories later on.  Or for appreciating Monty Python and the Holy Grail, as the case may be.

Currently, other books in the Knights' Tales series include The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great;  The   Adventures of Sir Givret the Short, and The Adventures of Sir Balin the Ill-Fated.  I have to mention that Aaron Renier does a great job of illustrating--don't you love that Green Knight cover?

My original Sir Gawain, read when I was about 16. 

Tolkien's translation.  I don't remember anything at all about Pearl or Sir Orfeo.   Only the Green Knight stuck with me.

Selina Hasting's children's adaptation of the Loathly Lady story, another time Gawain gets into hot water. 

Another of the Knight's Tales series. 

No comments: