Monday, April 18, 2016

Top Ten (Or So): Arthurian Retellings

With specific bias towards Sir Gawain, because he's my favourite knight by far. There are so many things about him...
--his rather large family of brothers and parents and their often complicated and damaged relationship with each other,
--the fact that they basically live on top of the world (Orkney FTW!*),
--the fact that he is not Sir Lancelot, and not only does he not commit adultery, his most famous stories are about how he treats marriage vows as sacred,
--the fact that Arthur is his uncle, even though they are of similar age, which makes for a cool dynamic (and basically makes him a prince),
--his common portrayal of having a bit of faery blood, and thus being just that bit more strange than everyone else,
--his association with light and the sun, gaining and losing strength as it does (I can relate to this myself sometimes, with my constant craving for sunlight),
--and last but not least, his usually-red hair--though even the non-red haired version of him still seems to have gorgeous hair (see Merlin below).

In fact, I like him so much that I'm going to divide this list into two lists, one with all the books/movies/TV that made me love Gawain, and one for all the rest.

(Taken from LilyBotanica on DevientArt.)

Arthurian Retellings Where Sir Gawain Is Awesome:

--The King Arthur Trilogy (consisting of The Sword and the CircleThe Light Beyond the Forest, and Road to Camlann) by Rosemary Sutcliff. This is a bit more of a straightforward retelling of the legends than most on this list. A good one to start off with, for that reason. And because Sutcliff is possibly the best historical fiction author I've read. Plus Sir Gawain is great in this one. All red-haired and passionate and Orkney and fey.

--The Squire's Tale and its sequel, The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady by Gerald Morris. A hilarious children's series with action, romance, and adventure--and best of all, it's centered on a funny and heroic Sir Gawain. In fact, I believe this book may have been the start of my love for Gawain. (There's a bit of annoying anti-Catholicism, but it wasn't even bad enough to throw me off at the younger age that I read it.)

--Hawk of May by Gillian Bradshaw. An inspiring and personal look at my favourite knight (called Gwalchmai here). Unlike the other attempt to bring Arthurian legends into a historically accurate era (see the King Arthur movie below), this one actually does seem accurate (though I am no historian, so don't take my word for it). Has everything I like best about historical fiction, plus some beautiful parts that appealed to my Faith. Made me want to read everything she's written.

--The TV show Merlin. Ok, so I haven't actually seen a lot of this show, so it's kind of cheating to put it on this list. But what I have seen was great fun, filled with humour and adventure. Gawain was quite different than his normal portrayals here, being one of the least noble of the knights instead of the most. But although I wish they could have delved into his character a bit more, and got to all the interesting bits (should have incorporated the Loathly Lady legend somehow), he was one of the more charming and amusing characters on a charming and amusing show.

--Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Middle English poem from the 14th century, translated by J. R. R. Tolkien. I'm not always fan of poetry, and not always fan of reading old literature for fun (in a study environment is different--I love that). But this was highly enjoyable. Maybe because I like Gawain so much, or Tolkien's style, or maybe because I like poetry and old literature more than I thought and I should give it the benefit of the doubt more.

--The Once and Future King by T. H. White. Other than the first book, The Sword in the Stone (on which the Disney movie was based), this is a pretty dark book. I loved it. The parts with Gawain and his brothers especially could be so creepy and atmospheric and memorable! Enough so that I lifted the "Runner Up" status on this one, even though Gawain was not very likeable and this is the "Gawain is Awesome" list.

--Runner Up: The movie King Arthur, starring Clive Owen and Keira Knightly. I heard that the historical inaccuracy is rather high on this one--which is fine sometimes, but not when it's trying to be specifically historical. That, as well as the Pelagianism and my lack of interest in Lancelot or Guinevere or their relationships with Arthur are the main reasons why it's a runner up. But there's nothing like a group of awesome guys fighting battles together, especially when the guys are as epic as Sir Tristan and Sir Gawain were in this one. (They were minor characters, but decidedly still my favourites. See this awesome picture of the two of them:)

--Runner Up: Parzival by Katherine Paterson. I read this when I was very young, and loved it. Upon re-reading it recently, it doesn't hold up to an older reading age. It was quite simplistic. But I'm adding it because of how much it thrilled my imagination when I was little. I still remember the feeling of reading some of its main scenes, and I have a very bad memory.

Arthurian Retellings Where Sir Gawain Is Not Awesome, but That Are Still Good for Some Reason:

--The Winter Prince by Elizabeth Wein. Dark and beautiful. The main character is based off of Mordred--one who is broken but struggling for goodness, and not as evil as he is often portrayed. Upon re-reading my review from back in 2012, I was surprised by my lack of enthusiasm. I think now, being a fair bit older and hopefully more discerning, I would have a more glowing reaction. Because the feeling of reading this book is still memorable after all this time, which indicates a lot to me-of-the-bad-memory.

--The movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. If you haven't already seen this...why haven't you? It can be rather sketchy and irreligious, I suppose. But it's also absolutely hilarious and a cultural icon.

--Runner Up: The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle. Like Sutcliff's King Arthur Trilogy, mentioned above, this is more of a standard retelling. But in this case, I like Sutcliff's much more, thus the "Runner Up" status. Plus I seem to remember that Sir Gawain is rather boorish (though maybe I'm thinking of the little bits I've read of Malory?**), so that's always a let-down. But it's still one of the staples of Arthurian retellings. I know many people enjoy it, so I thought it really ought to be here anyway. It's just not quite as much my cup of tea.

--Runner Up: That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis. It's a runner up because it's not an Arthurian retelling, per se. But a fabulous book, and full of fascinating Arthurian references in the later parts. Those parts probably thrilled me most of all.

(The Orkneys!!!!!)

* I have been to Orkney, and it is one of my favourite places in the world. It made me love those legends that much more.

** I haven't read Malory's famous version (excluding a short skim through little bits of it). Partly because Lancelot annoys me and he's featured heavily, partly because I've read enough Arthur by this point that it would have to have something great to recommend it. Maybe I will one day if I get the chance to do a proper literature study on it.

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