I watched Gawain and the Green Knight over the weekend and wow there’s a lot to unpack. The movie was excellent (in my possibly unpopular opinion), though it definitely diverged from the original story and most of its retellings. I went through what you might call a “King Arthur Phase” when I was younger, which led me to a book series that I still consider to be an all-time favorite, Gerald Morris’ The Squires Tales. The books are young adult but balance bawdy humor with serious plotlines masterfully. The author himself studied the old legends extensively and created beautiful renditions that are most certainly more accessible than ye old Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur. The books are without a doubt one of the most influential in my development as a writer and even played a part in inspiring my current work in progress.
Most of the film interpretations of King Arthur’s stories are okay but…just meh. They bring their own ideas and play around with the many different storylines in unique ways, but with a decidedly modern twist and a focus on the more recent stories.
Gawain and the Green Knight was written by an anonymous poet and offers incredibly rich imagery, symbolism, and a somewhat annoying alliterative style. I think my favorite aspect of the new movie, aside from the gorgeous cinematography, is that it calls back to earlier versions of Arthurian Legend, when women were powerful rather than evil, and the main characters were heroes rather than somewhat hollow reflections of courtly manners, romantic gestures, and good old Christian values.
The movie, like the original story, has its flaws. Its abstract at times and if you lack an understanding of old world witchcraft and Celtic (especially Irish and Welsh) mythology, you will probably be confused and unsettled. But it captures something that is too often missing from contemporary hero narratives (and which is well portrayed in Gerald Morris’ books as well): glory and honor at the expense of morality, decency, and understanding of your own flaws can’t last. As Essel asks Gawain in the movie, “why greatness? why is goodness not enough?”