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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; Pearl; [and] Sir Orfeo Mass Market Paperback – December 12, 1979

4.3 out of 5 stars 83 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

'The introduction to Gawain is a little masterpiece.' Times Higher Educational Supplement 'This magnificent Arthurian tale of love, sex, honour, social tact, personal integrity and folk-magic is one of the greatest and most approachable narrative poems in the language. Tolkien's version makes it come triumphantly alive, a moving and consoling elegy.' Birmingham Post --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From the Inside Flap

SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT, PEARL, and SIR ORFEO are masterpieces of a remote and exotic age--the age of chivalry and wizards, knights and holy quests. Yet it is only in the unique artistry and imagination of J.R.R. Tolken that the language, romance, and power of these great stories comes to life for modern readers, in this masterful and compelling new translation.
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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 214 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey (July 1, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345277600
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345277602
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.6 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,305 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By EA Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 7, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
J.R.R. Tolkien is best known as a fantasy writer. But his lesser-known profession was that of an professor and linguist, working at Oxford for over three decade. These three translated poems are excellent examples of his non-Middle-Earth work.
"Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" is a relatively little-known Arthurian legend, in which the knight Sir Gawain must forfeit his life to a knight who allowed Gawain to behead him -- then picked up his head and rode out. "Pearl" is a beautifully written, though somewhat more difficult to read, poem that chronicles the death of a child (possibly allegorical). "Sir Orfeo" is a version of the classic myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Tolkien's method for these works is unusually readable -- most translators sacrifice either readability or meaning; as far as I can tell, Tolkien sacrificed neither. "Sir Gawain" is probably the easiest translation I have come across; "Pearl" is haunting, laced with religious references, and very beautifully written; "Orfeo" is not so substantial as the first two, but still entertaining. It's a bit like a medieval ballad.
This book is not so much for fans of Middle-Earth, as for fans of all Tolkien's works. Beautifully written, highly recommended.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Between Tolkien's legendarium and scholarship fall his translations, which are by far the most regularly metrical translations in English. "Sir Gawain" includes 101 laisses or verse paragraphs of varying length, head-rhymed on the head-stave, each with an end-rhymed bob-and-wheel refrain; "Pearl" includes 101 12-line stanzas with regular (alternating) end-rhymes in addition to the head-rhymes, plus stanza-linking rhymes. Not even Professor Lehmann's Beowulf includes 101 bob-&-wheel refrains.
Tolkien's international reputation as a scholar began with his revival of "Sir Gawain" in the early `20s, and he developed these translations over the course of some 50 years. Scholarly consensus has held that "Sir Gawain" and "Pearl," the masterworks of the 14th-century Middle English alliterative-stave revival (standing in relation to Chaucer as Marlowe to Shakespeare), were composed by a West Midlands author whose name has not survived, the authentically bereaved father of the "Pearl" herself. Tolkien's "Gawain" lecture (published in The Monsters and the Critics) enlarges very helpfully on the early-`50s radio preface included in this volume.
"Sir Orfeo" is a mere frippery by comparison, in stichic ballad couplets, but probably originated as a single-author work as well. Admittedly there are more authoritative sources on the Classical myth of Orpheus and Eurydice than "Sir Orfeo," but that's part of the point: the Classical elements in these translations are real-life analogues of elvish/dwarvish influence in hobbit poetry.
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Format: Paperback
I know that the Marie Borroff translation is much praised, but this one is far better for the undergraduate classroom. While both translations share some characteristics (both are in poetry, both try to maintain the alliteration), you need only compare/contrast the "bob and wheel" (last 5 lines of each stanza) to see that Stone has managed to maintain "the sting in the tail" so typical of the original Middle English version--wherein a significant or surprising part of the stanza often appears in the bob and wheel--start with Fitt I, stanzas 4 and 7. Stone also maintains the "alliterative signaling" oral tradition: when possible he tries to alliterate only key words (Boroff seems happy when she can alliterate anything in the line, regardless of its significance to theme or motif!). As a medievalist, I am truly sorry to see so many of my colleagues jumping on the Borroff bandwagon when this superior, alternative translation is so readily available.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
"Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight" is a great and holy work of literature and I return to it on an annual basis to breathe the air of its strong magic and to observe with awe its rutheless moral rigor. What a profound joy it is to foresake the barren land of contemporary hack literature and enter once more into a world where the colors are brighter, the language is grander, and the characters stride across the mysterious landscape like gods or faery-figures lit from within by a mystic sun. The great J.R.R. Tolkien did us all a supreme kindness when he advocated for the deep spiritual and aesthetic significance of "Beowulf" (for whom his own writings bear covert relations) and he doubled it when he translated this masterpiece of the enchanted but decidedly anonymous soul who wrote it.

Five stars are a poor return for such pleasure and wisdom offered.
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Format: Kindle Edition
The Kindle text is not verse, it is prose. It is not the Marie Borroff verse translation of 1967; rather it is a prose translation dated 1898, revised 1900!!!
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Format: Paperback
The Penguin Classics edition of SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT, edited by J.A. Burrow, is fantastic for motivated readers who wish to approach the text as it really is, and delve deep into its symbolism and historical references. Burrow's edition is not a translation into modern English, but a presentation of the original Middle English with enough notes and and a glossary so copious that the reasonably well-educated reader will be able to tackle and even really enjoy this important work.
While it was written at the same time as Chaucer's CANTERBURY TALES, which is difficult but of which the modern reader can usually get the gist, SIR GAWAIN is written in a dialect of rural England which seems more impenetrable nowadays. Under this archaic facade, however, lies a magical tale ostensibly of Arthurian myth, but which is really an adaptation of an older, indigenous legend. The framing of the tale attempts to claim a noble heritage for England from Troy like the Roman poet Vergil had done for Rome with his AENEID.
I was a bit disappointed by the lack of a decent introduction. Barrow provides only a brief explanation of how the text was typeset and minor alterations in spelling, but I would have preferred coverage of the history of the story, the role of Arthurian myth in the popular literature of the writer's region, and a brief mention of the other contents of the manuscript on which the work was found.
If you are a student of English literature, or simply a lover of archaic English texts, the Penguin edition of SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT is a great choice.
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