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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: with Pearl and Sir Orfeo



By: J. R. R. Tolkien(Translator)

Language: English

Genre: Poetry, Drama & Criticism

Publisher: HarperCollins; New Ed edition (3 April 2006)

Format: pdf doc docx mobi djvu epub ibooks (*An electronic version of a printed book that can be read on a computer or handheld device designed specifically for this purpose.)

The original title of the book: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: with Pearl and Sir Orfeo

A collection of three medieval English poems, translated by Tolkien for the modern-day reader and containing romance, tragedy, love, sex and honour.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Pearl are two poems by an unknown author written in about 1400. Sir Gawain is a romance, a fairy-tale for adults, full of life and colour; but it is also much more than this, being at the same time a powerful moral tale which examines religious and social values.

Pearl is apparently an elegy on the death of a child, a poem pervaded with a sense of great personal loss: but, like Gawain it is also a sophisticated and moving debate on much less tangible matters.

Sir Orfeo is a slighter romance, belonging to an earlier and different tradition. It was a special favourite of Tolkien’s.

The three translations represent the complete rhyme and alliterative schemes of the originals.

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  • By R. Helmer on 12 June 2010

    I had previously spent rather a lot of money on a splendid Folio Society edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in a translation by Simon Armitage. It is a very fine edition, a beautiful artifact, but the translation is a bit too folksy and demotic. Armitage is a man of his time, and his modern vernacular style jars with ancient poem. The Tolkien version, which I ordered on the recommendation of my friend and colleague Dan Hannan, and which I am reviewing, is as different as chalk from cheese. Physically, it's no more than an ordinary little paperback. But unlike Armitage, Tolkien is by no means a man of his time. He is a man of a very different time, and his glorious language suits the period and the ambience of the poem. It gives a real feeling, a real insight into the mediaeval text. Nothing jars, nothing feels out of place. Toklein's rendering is a triumph and a delight, and while I shall value the Folio edition as an object, I shall prefer the Tolkien as literature.

  • By Bogaman on 31 August 2009

    This is a well balanced and very readable account of three Romances, 'translated' from the Middle English. Although I would have liked to have had the original verses for comparison, that is not the purpose of the book and their absence does not detract from its nature or purpose. I found the glossary of particular interest, and the Appendix illustrating verse forms useful in emphasising the continued use of alliteration, a legacy perhaps from old English verse. Altogether a most satisfying read from the Tolkien stable, and excellent value.

  • By Pamela Drouin on 22 November 2004

    I must clarify that "A Reader" is incorrect in stating that King Orfeo's daughter is kidnapped, rather it was his wife. "Sir Orfeo" is based on the classical myth of Orpheus and Euridice, where the characters are renamed by the anonymous poet as Orfeo and Heurodis. This Breton Lay has a decidedly happier ending than the classic version. This lay is heavily Christianized, but the Celtic elements also present render it a complex and sophisticated poem, difficult to pin down in a single interpretation. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" is perhaps the best Middle English work, but "Sir Orfeo" is a close second. I am pleased with Tolkein's translation, which is faithful to the Auchinleck Manuscript (as far as I can tell, it doesn't say in my copy of the book which MS it is based on).

  • By Paul T on 9 August 2013

    Having read the reviews for this translation I really expected something quite good, but was sadly disappointed. Tolkien's translations are stilted in the extreme and hardly do any justice to these truly great works of art. The pretentious pomposity of Tolkien's "poetry" mars the beauty and vitality of the original. There is no musicality or lyricism with Tolkien's translation. All the atmosphere, momentum and vividness of the original are lost and consigned to oblivion. Take my advice and forego getting this book. Instead get hold of Brian Stone's translation of Sir Gawain or Donoghue's, or preferably both because they really are good ones. Stone keeps the alliteration and though this can sound a bit awkward at times you have to admire him for his fidelity and the fact that you really get a sense of the rhythms that dwell which he has tried to preserve. What's more the story in his hands moves along at a good pace because of his sense of structuring. He conveys a great deal of the atmosphere and the subtle overtones of the original. Donoghue in his translation aims more for the lyrical though this is far from glib. The essence and vividness of the original are skilfully understood and evoked. It's a pity these translators didn't translate the other stories too, so that all could be bound into one big book.

  • By Chris on 7 March 2015

    Really excellent translation from the Middle English. Tolkien's language strikes just the balance between eldritch tone and readability.

  • By Simon burt on 4 February 2016

    I was unaware of this titles existence until recently, decided to give it a go. The text isn't to heavy for the lite tolkein fan, and should be a valid addition to your collection.Product delivered later than expected, hence four stars, but in good condition upon arrival.

  • By andrew martin on 20 May 2015

    Something other than Bilbo Baggins, these lovely and classic stories are a joy to read.

  • By Guest on 9 February 2016

    Great translation by Tolkien.

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