Book Review: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight *Gift Idea*
Review by Steve J. Ray
First of all, let me start by saying that I’m a huge fan of Arthurian Legend and Grail lore. I’m saying this not to put anyone off reading this great book, but to encourage them.
This graphic novel adaptation of the classic tale is so fun to read that anyone will love it. This book’s accessible to readers aged twelve to two hundred, whether they previously knew anything about the ancient tales, or not.
These stories have been part of British culture and heritage for centuries and have been adapted, shared, expanded upon, celebrated (and sometimes ruined) hundreds of times. As a comics fan, I’ve seen and read many adaptations, continuations, and dramatizations featuring Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table over the years. The 1980s gave us Camelot 3000, by Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland, and more recently we’ve seen Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora’s Once and Future. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is nothing like either of those great stories; therein lies its strength.
Many other adaptations have changed, dramatized, and over-exaggerated many of the events from the old tales, in an attempt to make them more palatable for a modern audience. The wonderful thing about this version, in my humble opinion, is that it’s basically the original tale, unencumbered by those trappings, stripped back and simply telling the story as it was intended to be told.
Most people wouldn’t be able to get through Geoffrey of Monmouth’s accounts, or possibly even Tolkien’s. Anyone can read this book, and everyone should. I’m a sucker for myth and folklore, and no other adaptation since Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology has done a better job of feeling like an ancient classic yet read like a modern-day novel. This is a book I’ll be sharing, talking about, and re-reading in years to come.
This isn’t just because it’s well-written, it looks great too!
At first glance, the art looks very simple. Let me tell you, making anything look this easy is frequently anything but. The details are in the expressions, backgrounds, textures, and lighting. This isn’t a cross-hatched, noir, dark shadowy tale, or an attempt to mimic an ancient, medieval woodcarving. No, what we have here is linework, expertly done and impeccably laid out. Not once will you get lost and have to go back to see where you followed the wrong panel. The art leads the eye and keeps the reader’s attention.
The use of just two colors is also genius. All we have is black, white, red, and green. The colors of blood, and mother nature. What could be more fitting for the tale of a mythical plant giants, swords, and magic? I honestly believe that having the story in full color would’ve dampened the impact, and having it just be in black & white would’ve taken away the charm. The use of just two colors was a wise and wonderful artistic choice.
What we have here feels like a tale told on a tapestry or ancient scroll, having only the language updated from 14th Century dialects to modern English. Adding to the authenticity and charm, the book’s even written in rhyme! Worry not though, dear reader, this isn’t baffling (though beautiful) Shakespearean Iambic Pentameter, this is easy to read, modern English… and it’s fun!
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a delight. It can be enjoyed as a bedtime tale, read to a child by a parent. Arthurian scholars will appreciate it, comics fans will enjoy it, and anyone with a sense of wonder will find something to love within these pages. Don’t just take my word for it! Alan Moore, one of the greatest writers of all time, wrote the foreword for this book. If that’s not a recommendation, then nothing is.
This is a story of hope against hopelessness, struggle, failure, and forgiveness. This is a story about life, told as a timeless fantasy. What more could you possibly ask for?
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight can be ordered as a deluxe hardcover graphic novel, direct from the writer and artist:
https://moorereppion.bigcartel.com/product/greenknight / https://mdpenman.bigcartel.com/product/greenknight
Images and review copy courtesy of John Reppion, Mark Penman, and Big Cartel.
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