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Sir Gawain and The Green Knight [Paperback]

Helen Cooper
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 15 2008 9780199540167 978-0199540167
Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, with its intricate plot of enchantment and betrayal is probably the most skilfully told story in the whole of the English Arthurian cycle. Originating from the north-west midlands of England, it is based on two separate and very ancient Celtic motifs of the Beheading and the Exchange of Winnings, brought together by the anonymous 14th century poet. His telling comprehends a great variety of moods and modes - from the stark realism of the hunt-scenes to thedelicious and dangerous bedroom encounters between Lady Bercilak and Gawain, from moments of pure lyric beauty when he evokes the English countryside in all its seasons, to authorial asides that are full of irony and puckish humour. This new verse translation uses a modern alliterative pattern which subtly echoes the music of the original at the same time as it strives for fidelity.

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Product Description


The Oxford World's Classics edition offers students an excellent introduction to this classic text and also important notes and chronologies.

About the Author

Australian born-poet and translator Keith Harrison taught for 30 years at Carleton College, Minnesota. He has published many books of poetry and translation including Points in a Journey (Macmillan), The Basho Poems (Minneapolis) and A Burning of Applewood (Northfield, Black Willow). Helen Cooper is Professor of English Language and Literature, and Tutorial Fellow at University College, Oxford. She is the editor of Malory's Le Morte Darthur in Oxford World's Classics.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Achievement Of Lyrical Verse Nov. 17 2003
By kmr43
Within this Arthurian Romance poem, the author serves to illustrate the trials and tribulations of Sir Gawain in a compelling achievement of lyrical verse. The translation by Keith Harrison contains a well written introduction with extremely informative background on both Arthurian romances in general, and also specifically focused on an analysis of Sir Gawain. Harrison restores the author's original achievement through preserving much of the structure and mood, keeping the plot unscathed, as originally intended by working closely with the original text to revitalize the Old English by granting it current nuances while remaining removed from the rather blunt phraseology of today and maintaining the opulent nature of the original text. The author writes to the audiences expectations, preconceiving the notion that Arthurian romantic heroes intrigue with violence, chivalry, and conflict, and he works within that to produce a piece that upholds those expectations while, at the same time, humanizing Sir Gawain. As intended by the author, the translator clearly invokes the audiences' sympathy by allowing them to share the same emotions of fear and hesitation as Sir Gawain, thereby involving them more as a spectator amongst the action of the piece. Therefore, this piece offers a very effective description of a more humanized romantic hero than is often related within Old English Arthurian romances. At $8.95, it is well worth its cost if you are indeed interested in Arthurian literature and lore, and seeking a short, enthralling poem about the plight of one man seeking heroism.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Structure of the Romance Nov. 9 2003
By replacing many archaic expressions with more modern phrases, this translated version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight makes the romance more accessible to the general public. The translator's writing conveys the subtle details within the text gracefully and meaningfully so that the reader can grasp the general atmosphere of the story as well as the more significant details of each line. This text's contents are great for analysis in a classroom yet also amusing for a bedtime read.
Although in many texts the explanatory notes in the back of the book disrupts the reader's concentration from the actual text and destroys the general flow of the novel, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight this is not an issue. The translator's writing is detailed and clear enough so that the reader does not need to refer to the appendix of the book to understand a certain phrase or line. The translator's attention to both metric flow and detail contributes to the success of the text.
The Introduction, written by Helen Cooper, is helpful yet is also a spoiler. Cooper describes to the reader the original author's writing style as well as gives the reader a background on Arthurian romances and poetic structure. However, during her process of explaining the elements of the book and the character of Sir Gawain to the reader, Cooper reveals the unfolding plot of the novel. While clearly written and easily understandable, the Introduction to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is too informal a writing to such a sophisticated text.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A great book for any reader Nov. 7 2003
This book is probably one of the best out there to dive into the world or Arthurian Romances. Harrison's translation is easy to understand, and provides helpful endnotes for much of the historical context. The plot is exciting, and the story progresses smoothly. Although the introduction by Helen Cooper is very informative about the author and subject of the novel, it also provides interpretations of the story itself. I would recommend that those who are unfamiliar with the story to take Cooper's advice and not read it, for it will give away much of the plot, which is rather intricate.
The novel starts out in King Arthur's court, around Christmas time. An unusual visitor arrives, in the form of a giant knight, who as the title implies, is green. He makes a challenge that is met by Sir Gawain, the king's nephew. After a short display, he finds out that he will ultimately have to confront the knight a year later to receive his deathblow. Thus, the story begins, as Gawain sets out on his voyage, to not only find the Green Knight, but also the hero in himself.
Although not too long, the text is very rich. It is full of subliminal messages, which create plots of their own. However, it can still be enjoyed even when taken literally, thanks to the clear writing of Harrison, and to the imagination of the original author.
At less than ten dollars, the book is an excellent value. Although a casual reader would get enjoyment from one reading, further readings would almost certainly bring out new themes and revelations to those more familiar with Arthurian romances, making this a must for any Arthurian enthusiast.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Reading underneath the decisions of Gawain Nov. 4 2003
Keith Harrison's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a masterful classic that creates a new world in the reader's mind dating back to the times of Arthur's Round Table. Detailing the travels of the knight Sir Gawain, this tale exemplifies the genre of writing characteristic of Arthurian romances. The style sees the use of alliteration in pentameter showing a great appreciation of the ideals of poetry to accompany the basis of recreating a story passed down through generations. In addition, the short story does a prototypical job in portraying the values of the chivalric life. Using the pentangle as his model of excellence, the poet brings about a new understanding within the reader of the underlying morals that are at the heart of every Arthurian knight.
But even without a deep respect of the style of writing, the reader finds in Keith Harrison's SGGK a great retelling of a story that follows the up's and down's of Gawain and his quest for the Green Knight. Within the visible, physical struggle, an inner, mental conflict between the knight's own mindset as a romance hero and his all too obvious humanity becomes the dominant force in the narrative. The inner struggle is something that every human being, from past ages or modern cultures will face.
The deeper meaning in SGGK provides a backbone to a story beautifully translated into modern poetry. Because of the story's symbolic undertones, the recommendation is for the reader to read through the story once for its basic hero story and next to answer the question of why the Green Knight did not kill Gawain to upend his side of the deal. The realization then becomes the connection that Gawain's weaknesses have with your own human flaws. Because of the correlation between Gawain and the common man, this story has survived the test of time and space.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Reading underneath the decisions of Gawain
Keith Harrison's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a masterful classic that creates a new world in the reader's mind dating back to the times of Arthur's Round... Read more
Published on Nov. 4 2003 by Dennis Shen
4.0 out of 5 stars Great for first-time readers or scholars
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, with its translation by Keith Harrison (Oxford University Press 1998), is an enjoyable, as well as intellectually stimulating, book. Read more
Published on Oct. 30 2003 by "kjv5"
4.0 out of 5 stars Good for starters-well worth the buy
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, among the tales of Arthur and his knights, presents one of the most moving, exciting, and human accounts of medieval knighthood. Read more
Published on Oct. 29 2003 by "nfohs"
5.0 out of 5 stars Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
...Keith Harrison's verse translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) is a fine read. Read more
Published on Oct. 29 2003 by MVB9
5.0 out of 5 stars gawain comes alive
Over the years I've read versions of this poem by numerous people: Brian Stone (the best before this), Tolkien, Raffael, Silverstein, and the archaic and almost unreadable version... Read more
Published on May 12 2003 by kerstin calley
4.0 out of 5 stars ...
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was an interesting book to read. The imagery of nature throughout the book played an important role in Gawain's quest. Read more
Published on May 5 2003 by m.e.b.
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic worthy of the name
Many would-be readers are put-off by the word "classic," inferring that anything tagged with that label is necessarily dry, inaccessible, and out-of-touch. Read more
Published on Aug. 20 2001 by K. Jump
5.0 out of 5 stars A great medieval romance
This version of "Sir Gawain" must be one of the best around. Keith Harrison translates into modern English a fascinating poem of challenge, witchcraft, temptation, and... Read more
Published on July 3 2001 by sid1gen
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