Sir Gawain & the Green Knight
Michael Morpurgo, author
Michael Foreman, illustrator
Candlewick Press

I’ve reviewed Gerald Morris’s hilarious version of Sir Gawain’s story, and now it’s time to draw your attention to a different retelling. Morpurgo tells his version in the traditional fashion and is thorough, yet approachable. Satisfactorily illustrated, this version can be read to younger elementary children, enjoyed by middle elementary children and middle school students, and is not too childish for high school students. The drama of the high king’s court, the honor of Arthur’s knights, the church’s connection to daily life, and the traditions of the Middle Ages come through marvelously in this easy-to-read-yet-complete version. While not broken up into actual chapters, there are still nicely defined breaks where a read aloud can be paused. I wish this had been around when I taught British Literature to high school students!

For those who are unfamiliar with this famous story, here’s a recap: one New Year’s Eve, a terribly fierce green knight strides into Arthur’s court as a feast is in progress. He offers a challenge: a knight can deal him any blow as long as he, the knight, agrees to seek the Green Knight out at the Green Chapel in 1 year and 1 day. Sir Gawain bravely agrees, strikes the monster’s head off, and is shocked to see the monster get up and leave the court. True to his word, Sir Gawain seeks the monster out at the appointed time. Along the way, he makes a new friend and enters into several friendly contests. In the midst of these contests, the new friend’s wife tries to tempt Sir Gawain into some unseemly conduct. Sir Gawain emerges with his honor (and the lady’s) intact and makes it to the appointed meeting with the Green Knight. A surprise ending for those who don’t know this tale!

It’s worth mentioning that the scenes in which the lady tries to seduce Sir Gawain are clearly laid out in this telling, but only the traditional chaste kisses happen. Still, more conservative readers may wish to wait until their children are in elementary school before reading it aloud.