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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Guy Goodman St.White Reviews Sir Gawain and The Green Knight--More Hack Genre Nonsense

In "real literature," decapitation is an auto-loss
for any contest in which one is involved. 
Good Afternoon.  Guy Goodman St.White here, your absurdly British sounding host.  Many of you may not remember me since I was recently relegated from my weekly spot to a single Wednesday of every month.  Chris Brecheen claimed I was, in his words, "shticky."   Fortunately I have been replaced by a guy who lists everything, and two women who seem prone to inflict violence on poor writing, one with some kind of cannon on the clones of pretentious people, and the other by karate chopping bad advice.  Certainly nothing shticky there.

However, I shall do nothing if not preserve in the face of adversity.  Those of us who understand the difference between good literature and popular tripe have no end of familiarity with what it means to be under assault for pointing out how much better we are than the unwashed plebs.

And with that said, we move on to take a look at Sir Gawain and The Green Knight.  It will be a brief look, for while there are a host of valid literary criticism lenses through which to interpret this late fourteenth century text, there is only one lens that matters.

Is it genre crap?

The answer is a resounding yes.  Sir Gawain is challenged by some sort of alien plant person...knight...thing early in the poem, and if that were not enough they get into a head chopping-off contest.  Normally you would think that whomever went first in such a contest would be the clear victor.  Yes, you would think that.  However, even though the green knight has his head lopped clean off off, he picks it up and walks away, forcing Sir Gawain to find him in one year and one day for his turn.  

To say that realism isn't among this poem's virtues is understatement.  But since I'm terribly British sounding, I like understatement.

In the end Sir Gawain is nothing more than a classic example of high fantasy adventure, complete with a far flung quest, wizards, shape-shifters, a simply ridiculous framing of good vs. evil that defies credulity, and finger-wagging didactic lesson about being a "good person" within a wrap up that blamed the whole thing on the evil arch-nemesis Morgana LeFay.

Now, if Gawain had pursued his affair and learned of the deep seated dysfunction between Bertilak and his lady, due largely to his questioning of his sexuality, if they had carried on their affair even as Gawain led Bertilak on, eventually murdered him, returned to the knights to lie about his involvement and then had to live with the darkness of his human condition, then this might have been worthy of literature.

As it is...as the kids today say: "Not so much."

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