Oh, That Jolly Green Giant

Oh, That Jolly Green Giant

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Oh, That Jolly Green Giant


In a land of magic, love, betrayal, hatred, loyalty and mystery, there exists a kingdom called Camelot. At the heart of Camelot are the Knights of the Round Table who maintain their loyalty to King Arthur. From the famed knights emerges one knight, who stands out as being traditionally the most loyal, chivalrous, and courtly of all: Sir Gawain. It is during one of Arthur's New Year's feast, that a stranger rudely gallops into the great hall and begins what will be a yearlong test for Sir Gawain. His color, physical stature, power, and magic are astounding to the Knights of the Round Table. Only one knight dares to accept the challenge of this green giant. This is the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a fourteenth Century Arthurian romance by an anonymous poet.

"Great wonder grew in hall/At his hue most strange to see,/For man and gear and all/Were green as green could be." (Norton, 161) Throughout this text, great emphasis is placed on the color green and the fact that great power is associated with the color. Green will again be emphasized at the end of the story when Lord Bercilak's wife gives Gawain a magical green girdle, which has the power to protect Gawain from the Green Knight. The green of everything about the knight is then countered by the red glow of his eyes. In these times, dragons and monsters are green with glowing red eyes. They are also powerful and serve as tests for true knights and heroes. The color green is given a mystical power in this story because not only do the girdle and the Green Knight act as green symbols of magic, but the Green Chapel is also a powerful image of magic. While it is not a traditional Judeo-Christian chapel, but rather it seems to be a prehistoric cave. It can be viewed as a holy place simply because it is the only green "life" that exists in the suffocating white snow of the winter. This alone should have alterted Gawain to believe that magic was afoot.

It is the sheer size of the Green Knight that intimidates many of the Knights of the Round Table: "As lightning quick and light/He looked to all at hand;/It seemed that no man might/His deadly dints withstand." (Norton, 162) Because Gawain must uphold his knightly duties, he alone takes on the Green Knight's game and presents himself as the student of humility.

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Perhaps it is because Lord Bercilak is not green when Gawain meets him again at the castle that Gawain does not recognize any characteristics of the Green Knight in his host. When Gawain meets the Green Knight in order to honor his deal and have his head struck off, it is the size of the Green Knight and the power that make him such a fierce enemy. In the end we discover that the frightening façade of the Green Knight has been created mostly to scare Queen Guinivere to death. In reality, the Green Knight has simply succeeded in scaring Gawain enough so that he compromises his honesty in order to survive.

The Green Knight is one of the most interesting characters in this scene because this scene is focused mainly on him. From his extravagant dress to the perfect details of his horse, one can see the painstaking effort the anonymous author has taken to truly bring the Green Knight to life for his/her readers. Our attention is held by the element of magic that surrounds the Green Knight each time he is seen, along with the humor he seems to find in Gawain's distress. From the moment he picks his head up and walks around holding it, one can see that the Green Knight is not the average adversary. Whether Lord Bercilak is really a "good guy" or a "bad guy" is never answered in the story. All we really know is that Morgana LeFey is using him in order to destroy Guinivere and teach the Knights of the Round Table some humility. While Gawain is traditionally the most kind, loyal and honest of the knights (at least in the fourteenth century), this story sets Gawain in a new light and shows that even the greatest of Arthur's knights has flaws and behaves like a human and not always like a living ideal.

Throughout Sir Gawain and the Green Knight one must look carefully at the true message of the story. Honesty will always help a person when he/she needs it most, and it is Gawain's honesty that spares his life when the Green Knight could have ended it. The moment the Green Knight is introduced to the reader is a moment the reader will never forget. The author serves to describe every detail of the Green Knight so that his image never fades from the reader's mind. Much like Gawain, we too dread returning to the Green Knight. In modern times the color green is often associated with money, which to some equals power. In Arthur's time it represented a rebirth - the rebirth of Gawain with humility. Gawain's own view of himself is destroyed by the Green Knight and the lesson he is taught at the Green Chapel by hiding the green girdle. The Green Knight and Morgana LeFey teach Gawain about true loyalty and the greatest thing that Gawain can possess is his integrity.

Works Cited

Anonymous. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Seventh Edition.

Ed. M.H. Abrams. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 2000. 156-210.
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