Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Penguin Classics)

I pulled up a local middle school's summer reading list recently to see what kids today are "required" to read and found myself disturbed that I didn't recognize many of the books on the list. and even more disturbed that the reading levels of most of the books were well under the grade level of the reader. On a list of approximately twenty books for 6th graders, four were at or above a 6th grade level with most  in the 4th grade range. To make matters worse, less than a handful are what I would consider classics or quality literature. Good books have been slowly disappearing from our schools more and more. Parents and teachers are satisfied to let children read rubbish like Captain Underpants, under the illusion that any reading is good reading. I say it's time to fight back and have your children read the classics! Penguin Classics is an excellent publisher of quality and affordable translations. Today, I am reviewing one of their titles in the series Legends from the Ancient North.

Legends from the Ancient North is a series of five books from Norse literature that are said to have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien. The five titles are Beowulf; The Elder Edda; The Saga of the Volsungs; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; and The Wanderer. Today, I will be reviewing Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I chose this title of the five to review first, because I read this in college and I didn't particularly agree with the slant my professor put on the translation. Therefore, I wanted to read it again and give it a shot again. This edition begins with an introduction by the translator Bernard O'Donoghue. In it he gives background on how the text was accidentally discovered and preserved, other texts that were found with it, and the difficult job of maintaining the beauty of a text when you translate it. He then goes on to explain the character of Sir Gawain, the plot of the poem, and the genre of medieval romance literature.

The translation is very accessible and thus a straightforward read. In fact, I'd say it reads a bit more like prose than poetry. The purist will not appreciate that, because in it you lose some of the beauty and alliteration of the original. However, I appreciated it as it is the perfect introduction to a difficult text. At the end of the text are pages of notes explaining difficult passages and an appendix with some of the original text to whet the reader's appetite. It was clear from reading this work why it inspired Tolkien, and knowing that Tolkien translated this work makes me want to read his translation now. If you are a fan of Tolkien, than I believe you need to read this work and the other four books in the Legends from the Ancient North series, because I am a firm believer that if you want to understand an author, you should read what he or she read.

This book was provided to me for free by Penguin Classics in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!