20 DECEMBER 2019

THE GREEN KNIGHT

CHRISTMAS SPECIAL · PART III

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At King’s Arthur’s Christmas Court in Camelot, there is much warmth and mirth and jollity, and already the feast has been begun with two wonderful stories.  But now, at last, King Arthur has decided, it is time to eat.

          Sir Kay raises his fist to strike the feasting bell - but then he freezes. For another sound is rising suddenly to split the chamber’s  murmering warmth!  A far off sound - a horn - a supernatural blast that charges the air, and shrivels the heart in the chest!

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Perhaps one of the most famous and well-loved stories in Arthurian literature, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight tells the story of how the titular protagonist bursts in upon the assembled court of King Arthur and lays down a fateful challenge.  The hero of the tale, Sir Gawain, undergoes this and a series of other trials which test and prove his character as the best of King Arthur's knights, not simply in deeds or prowess, but also in his character.

This telling of the tale was drawn together with reference to two primary texts: a translation of the original by W. A. Neilson, and a verse re-telling of the tale by Charles Miner Lewis from 1903.  The details of the murmering mere, the baron's speech to Gawain before he enters the Chapel, and details of the Green knight's speech to Gawain are drawn from Lewis' version. However his version departs from the original much more radically than my own telling, introducing a lady love for Gawain called 'Elfinhart', and turning the whole adventure into a romantic test devised by the fairy king and queen, who are her gaurdians.

The identity of the Green Knight is a source of rich debate in medieval literature and folklore studies. He is variously suggested to be a nature spirit, a faery, an echo of older pagan gods, or the Christian devil.  In our own story, the Green Knight declares these connections himself, and the names he pronounces are all identifications suggested by scholars.  He has been identified with Arawn, the ruler of the Celtic underworld in early Arthurian literature.  Oberon is the name given to the fairy king by Shakespeare; and 'Sir Jack in the Green' connects the green knight to later folklore about the green man and 'jack-in-the-green' in folklore and fertility rituals since the early twentieth century.  The names of the Baroness, in our story revealed as the Green Lady, are all names that have been ascribed to the fairy queen in Celtic, Scots and English sources.

The shield which Gawain carries, with its golden pentacle, symbolises here the knightly virtues which his character swears to uphold.  Ironicaly, the sign of pentacle is these more commonly associated with witchcraft and the devil today. This is not an accident: revealed to King Solomon in lore and legend, the pentacle was supposed to give the King the power to 'bind and loose' evil spirits and demons in the name of God. This was the power sought by practitioners of the occult in the past, who considered themselves Christians even if the Church condemned their magical profession.

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Rick: In these times of global ecological crisis, it seemed apt that the Green Knight should warn against the destruction that comes from a failure to respect nature. In English folk customs, the 'Jack of the Green' is sometimes ritually killed as a symbol of death and rebirth in nature and the seasons of the year; a link is drawn between this custom and the Green Knight's regenerative ability. But in our telling, Bertilak warns that to 'cut too deep' or pluck [nature] by the root' leads to an ultimate and more permanent kid of death. 

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The Green Knight's words could also be read as an affirmation of  human nature in spite of Gawain's 'failure' with the green belt. While he rejects the sexual advances of the Baroness, Gawain still obeys the instinct toward self preservation. This, Bertilak seems to say, is a healthy and natural impulse, even if it falls below the super-human piety dictated by Gawain's Christian code. It is an open question whether audience considers Gawain still worthy to bear the sign of chivalry on his shield.  Gawain's character fares well in much of Arthurian literature, but his lapse here may be accounted for when he is later judged unworthy of achieving the Holy Grail, and some later depictions of him became cruder, and much less honourable.

EPISODE CREDITS

Story interpreted and performed by Rick Scott.
Sound editing, audio design and original illustrations by Rick Scott.
Lore & Legend Series Theme composed and performed by Robert Bentall.

Podcast hosting by Anchor. Video and audiogram creation using Headliner.

Relic Jungle background pattern from DIN Patterns (www.dinpattern.com | facebook.com/EvanEckardYT)

AUDIO CREDITS

Incidental and background music tracks by Derek and Brandon Feichter on Bandcamp. Used with credit as per their Youtube Channel.

 

Additional incidental music, background ambience and sound effects by multiple authors sourced from Freesound.org.

See below for the full list of audio files and attribution credits:

Rick Scott
STORYTELLER

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