Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Ham (available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions, as well as from Apple Books) is a modern romance in verse inspired by the Medieval tale of King Arthur’s famously courteous nephew, Sir Gawain, and his adventures fighting the Green Knight. The Green Knight challenges Gawain to a “beheading contest” in which Gawain is allowed to chop off the Green Knight’s head if he promises to show up a year later at the Green Chapel to have his own head chopped off in his turn by the Green Knight.
It seems like a safe enough proposition, but magic is loose in King Arthur’s England, and it will take more than courtesy to get Gawain out of the predicament he puts himself in.
This isn’t a translation or retelling of the original Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and it certainly isn’t Dr Seuss. It’s a new story, ribald and serious, sober and fun, that reconsiders one of the strangest Medieval romances and creates a tale that’s more accessible to modern readers while doing homage to the original.
Here’s how it begins:
After the fall of the city of Troy
a soldier named Brutus, he gathered his boys
and said, “Let us sail to far Albion’s shores
where we’ll camp out like kings and feast on s’mores
and build a great nation, make peace in our time,
so the poets will sing what we did our prime!”
And so it was done, ’til the legions of Rome
invaded and governed, and then they went home
though soon they were followed by Saxons and Angles
who built a new kingdom from many threads tangled:
Christian and pagan, Roman and Briton,
and Jutes out from Jutland, who never wore mittens.
Then Britain was ruled by good knights who all ate
fine venison, lark’s tongues, plate after plate
of dainties and delicate medieval fare
while beautiful ladies beyond compare
kept up the high tenor of proper behaviour
reminding the knights of their Blessed Saviour.
Gathered at Camelot, brilliant and gay
the knights all paid homage to one who could sway
their anger to kindness, their lust to pure love:
King Arthur who ruled from his throne high above
but sat with his knights at the Table quite Round
so all could be equal, as sleepy great hounds
lay at their feet and gnawed on old bones
while the knights jostled and sinned and atoned,
They were errant knights,
who often spent nights erring,
their days in dreadful fights
over quince and herring.
A lot of people say they “don’t know anything about poetry”. This book is for them. Just read it like you would any other book, sentence by sentence, line by line. There are little four-line summaries at the end of each chapter, but otherwise it can be just read like any other book. Really!
For people who love poetry: there’s more to this simplicity than meets the eye.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Ham has jealousy, honour, sex (well, very nearly), violence, a quest, adventures, wild men, seductive women, wise women, noble and not-so-noble knights, an outlaw and his maid, a band of wandering pilgrims who tell each other stories, a riddle contest that makes fun of J.R.R. Tolkien, and pigs! What more could you ask for?