Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, trans. William Vantuono (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999). xl + 320 pp. ISBN 0-268-01767-0. $17.00.
Medieval manuscripts written in Middle English pose a problem to translators who must strive to keep translations true to their original meaning for scholarly audiences yet keep them simple enough for the casual reader to understand as well. Vantuono managed this balance quite well in his edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. With the original Middle English text on one page and the translated modern text on the facing page, Vantuono allows the academic reader to easily compare the translation to the original. A quick glance from the translation to the original shows that Vantuono has indeed tried to keep the translation as close to the original text as possible. Footnotes at the bottom of the page also give literal translations and original meanings on individual words or phrases from the original, making it still easier to comprehend the Middle English text. However, the modern translated text is also extremely easy to understand, and the Middle English-modern English arrangement does not create a problem for a modern reading of the text, making Sir Gawain and the Green Knight user-friendly for the general public.
The somewhat lengthy introduction at the beginning covers a variety of topics ranging from the manuscript itself along with the three preceding manuscripts presumed to have been written by the same author, a discussion of Gawain poet, the structure of the text, and the various themes that appear in the text.
Although a bit too scholarly for the average reader at times, the introduction does bring up interesting points and examines opposing points of view concerning the text brought up by a number of distinguished scholars. Extensive notes at the end of the book, a thorough bibliography, as well as notes on the language, dialects, and source of textual details makes this edition a good choice for an academic study of the text. The edition includes black and white copies of the four original illustrations from the manuscript as well as a copy of the first twenty-six lines of the original text.
While overall geared more towards a scholarly audience, this edition is still easily comprehensible to the average reader, allowing a wider audience and greater access to the text.