Gawain’s belief by the end of “Sir Gawain and the Green
Knight” is that he has failed—in honesty, fidelity, and faith. As a
representative of an ideal Christian whose priority is to remain godly
(and knightly), he sees the outcome of his quest quite differently than
the Green Knight. The Green Knight also prizes honesty, though not
always at the cost of life, a view not necessarily shared by Gawain.
Strangely enough, King Arthur’s court, ideally as devout as Gawain,
sees Gawain’s small human flaws not as a failure (as Gawain does)
but as an overall achievement—he returned to court alive and bravely
kept his word to the Green Knight. Considering these three points
of view, one may wonder if the author is suggesting that the pagan
Green Knight’s emphasis on life and humanness is more sensible than
Gawain’s pursuit of godliness. Arthur’s court (and the poet) seems to
think so. Furthermore, the poem suggests that in Arthur’s kingdom
(and throughout medieval Europe), there is a blend of both Christian
and pagan customs. The poem itself is, arguably, centered on a quest
more pagan than Christian. While to Gawain the Green Knight is a
supernatural and mysterious being associated with evil, the poet suggests
that all things green are life-giving and good. This essay explores the
Green Man’s travel through pagan myth into Christian art, legend and
Arthur’s court, and how his view of success differs from Gawain’s faithcentered
The essay begins with sections on “ Greenness” and “The Green Man in the Open”;
excerpted here are the final three sections. The full text will soon be made available online at this address.
Green Man Legend...
... middle of paper ...
...ing of the old Celtic religion, for it prevails even in their
Christian-themed surroundings—in churches and even in the Bible. If
the divinity and sacredness of nature can survive in art and literature,
Arthurian society cannot help but accept it and welcome it into its life.
Anderson, William. Green Man: The Archetype of Our Oneness With the
Earth. London: Harper Collins, 1990.
Burrow, J.A., ed. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. New York:
Doel, Fran, Geoff Doel. The Green Man In Britain. Charleston:
Merwin, W.S., ed. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. New York: Knopf,
Morgan, Gerald. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Idea of
Righteousness. Dublin: Irish Academic, 1991.
Price, Brian R. Ramon Lull’s Book of Knighthood and Chivalry with the Ordene
de Chevalrie. The Chivalry Bookshelf, 2001.
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