Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Translated by: Gordon Hall Gerould
There are few words that are eloquent enough to describe the works contained in this small, historic volume. But if I had to pick, Treasured, Classic, and Must-Read would be among them. This collected edition is truly a work of art, and the reason that libraries, even in the advent of ebooks and downloads, will never go out of style.
While filling out my reviews on multiple sites, I was surprised to find that two copies are available for purchase (at the time of me writing this) for $378.52 a copy. Wow. This book has also not been reprinted (sadly) since 1935. Heck, it doesn’t even have an ISBN! But it is a valuable and venerated tome, all the same.
This is the kind of book I grew up on, the slightly musty, library scent between its pages. The kind of book I could be seen toting with me on any given day. The kind that could be found tucked inside my pillowcase in an attempt to disguise it from my dad’s wife at bedtime. This is a BOOK.
And one that I enjoyed reading from. In fact, it is currently a bit overdue at the library, me having held onto it for a tad too long, exhausting my renewals to keep it on my bedside table. I love this book as much as if it were my own. More so, maybe, since it holds a hallowed spot on a library catalogue, ready to be checked out and revered by other noble readers of the Arts.
Okay, enough about the tome, and onto it’s content…
This book contains translations of not only the title ballads, Beowulf (an ancient, pre-Britian tale of a hero with superhuman strength and adventures that can rival superheroes) and Sir Gawain (a medieval romance and holiday story that is a tradition of Arthur’s Court), but also parts of other works that arose, some by the same authors, by about the same timeframe. Namely, works by Cynewulf, The Wanderer, Piers Plowman, and The Pearl.
The notes included are short, yet provide ample supplement to the readings. Most of the readings are in alliterative form, which may be difficult for those unaccustomed to the style to read. I found that when I recalled the peculiar rhythm once again, it made for easy reading aloud to the little one for naptimes. The only tale not written in this format was Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. However, the notes do recommend Sir Tolkien’s magnificent translation as well. This is the version that I prefer, although Gerould’s version did make for a better reading in the sense of a modern romance.
These are stories that everyone should have the opportunity to read at least once, but have fallen into the dusty annuls of time. People know the stories, as if the many generations that have gone before have laid a residual imprint upon the brain. But few have read them anymore. Perhaps this is where history and legend become one and the same. Where memory begins to forget.
Some books will be lost to us, forever in the coming decades. I hope that this will not be one of them.