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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo

by J.R.R. Tolkien (Translator), Gawain Poet (Author), Pearl Poet (Author)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,497144,205 (3.88)50
Retells the story of Gawain's quest for the Green Chapel and his puzzling encounters with Sir Bercilak and his lady.
  1. 10
    Beowulf by Beowulf Poet (chrisharpe)
  2. 10
    Finn and Hengest by J. R. R. Tolkien (MissBrangwen)
  3. 02
    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 2nd Edition Rev By Norman Davis by Tolkien - Gordon (MissBrangwen)
    MissBrangwen: This is the text in Middle English, complete with glossary, so it's well worth a try if you would like to sample the original.

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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
The Oxford don J.R.R. Tolkien is mostly known for composing the Lord of the Rings trilogy. However, before this trilogy, he built his academic career as an acclaimed expert on Anglo-Saxon culture, language, and literature. In his work, he translates three works from the Middle English into modern idiom. The quality of the translation demonstrates the vastness of Tolkien’s literary brilliance.

Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales are the two most-read works from the Old English and Middle English tongues. As suggested by Tolkien, these three tales deserve to have a prominent place in this literary canon as well. As with Beowulf, their original author or authors is/are unknown. They were probably passed down orally (think stories by the fire at night) before being inscribed at some point. Nonetheless, they share interesting tales that illustrate the quality of life during medieval England and represent an early triumph of the expanding English tongue.

Sir Gawain makes great use of alliteration in Tolkien’s translation. Many lines repeat words starting with one letter. In addition, this work encodes a story of love, honor, duty, and courage. It describes a sacred quest by a knight from King Arthur’s time. Humanistic qualities in addition to literary quality place it among the great works of Old and Middle English.

Pearl describes holy beauty, symbolized by a pearl and a child, in the midst of a profane, ugly world. It is marked by a complex rhyming structure. Indeed, this lyrical frame probably aided in memorization at some point in history. This poem contains much Christian theology and deals with quintessentially medieval, Augustinian views on God and life.

Sir Orfeo is a comparatively short poem, also rhymed, of a king’s quest for redemption and inner nobility. It lauds a servant – a medieval everyman – who dutifully honors his lord and is rewarded in the end.

These translations are entertaining and masterful. They contain words that are not common to American usage – words like “gramercy” and “bayed.” Diction like these expands our imagination into medieval Britain and the language of Middle English. Through this translation, we see Tolkien’s scholarly mastery of the ancient Anglo-Saxon world and are enriched by its gifts. ( )
  scottjpearson | Mar 7, 2020 |
I'm mostly here for Sir Gawain; Pearl is very much medieval theology, and thus interesting primarily for academic reasons, and Sir Orfeo is an interesting retelling of Orpheus set in England with faeries but of that style of poetry that's liable to put you to sleep if you don't pay close attention. The Sir Gawain, however, is fantastic, and if you can parse the deep language of academia, the translation notes are rather enlightening on medieval English styles of poetry. ( )
  jen.e.moore | Dec 18, 2016 |
I read this---just Sir Gawain and the Green Knight---aloud to my children to go along with their history curriculum. I remember reading and retaining very little of this poem in college, and I was surprised at just how much it seemed to speak to my children. It says something either about Tolkien's translation or about my attention level in late adolescence that I didn't notice the alliteration until I read it this time around.

I'm not entirely sure what the literary purpose is of going into such detail about the dressing of deer and boars after the hunt, and I don't think I noticed how suggestive the bedroom bits were when I wasn't reading it to my kids, but I did learn a goodly number of new vocabulary words. ( )
1 vote ImperfectCJ | Aug 24, 2016 |
I have read this book many times before, especially this translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Tolkien is an amazing author, translator, linguist, and story teller. He faithfully translates and recounts three ancient medieval stories full of symbology and meaning. The stories are wordy, but in the way that lends purpose to the telling.

This was December 2014's book club selection, and worth reading more than once. ( )
  Ermina | Feb 25, 2016 |
This slim volume, put together by Christopher Tolkien, collects three translations done by J.R.R. of 14th-century British poems, together with writings by Tolkien Sr. on the poetry.

'Gawain and the Green Knight' is the classic, and not surprisingly, the best. Originally written in an alliterative style, Tolkien reflects that style in his translation, but the verse-form is such that it is not distracting to the story - it's very readable.
The story is, of course, that of one of Arthur's knights who agrees to a (rather foolish contest) with a strange, fey knight of mysterious powers. Bound by his word to seek out the knight (and, undoubtedly, his own death) the next year, he wanders in search of the knight and his appointed meeting - but encounters the hospitality of a merry lord and his all-too-seductive wife....

'Pearl' didn't do it for me, I have to admit. The narrator encounters the ghost of his dead daughter, who tells him, at great length, about how the dead are with god and the living have to accept it, blah blah blah religious dogma blah blah.

'Sir Orfeo,' however, is a very interesting poem, especially considering how old it is. It's a very intentional 'updating' of the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, making the characters a British lady, and her lord, who seeks her when she has been taken under the hill by Faerie. Pretty cool that we can see that in the 14th century, people were adapting stories to their own mythologies (as they've always done, of course) ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tolkien, J.R.R.Translatorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gawain PoetAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Pearl PoetAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Baynes, PaulineCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davis, NormanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gordon, E.V.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gordon, I. L.Contributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Howe, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jones, TerryNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tolkien, ChristopherEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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When the siege and the assault had ceased at Troy, and the fortress fell in flame to firebrands and ashes, the traitor who the contrivance of treason there fashioned was tried for his treachery, the most true upon earth—it was Aeneas the noble and his renowned kindred who then laid under them lands, and lords became of well-nigh all the wealth in the Western Isles.
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Retells the story of Gawain's quest for the Green Chapel and his puzzling encounters with Sir Bercilak and his lady.

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