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Book 2 in The Squire’s Tales continues the adventures of Sir Gawain, knight of King Arthur’s Round Table, and his faithful, half-faery squire Terence. Mainly based on the medieval legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which in turn was based on even more ancient legends from pre-Christian Ireland and far-off Persia, this book pretty faithfully retells one of the most moving quest stories in world literature. Meanwhile, it lines the aisles and packs the scenery with clever embellishments, old conventions turned upside-down, newly-invented characters, old ones with reconsidered motives, and fresh detail.
The tale takes place at a time of transition. Gawain’s fame as the world’s greatest knight has begun to be eclipsed by the rising star of Lancelot. But the coming of Lancelot has brought pain to King Arthur as well: the pain of disillusionment with his and Guinevere’s fairy-tale love affair. But all this only lends an undertone of melancholy to the main adventure, in which Gawain spends most of a year seeking his own death – death in fulfillment of a vow; death for love of his king.
This is the story of the giant Green Knight who appears at Camelot and offers to let anyone cut his head off who will, in exactly one year, let him behead them back. Gawain comes forward and does the grisly deed; then the Green Knight picks up his head and walks away, warning the hero to remember his vow. But a year of searching for the Green Knight and his green chapel only leads Gawain and his faithful squire to one strange adventure after another; adventures in which they are joined by the spirited Lady Eileen, who proves to be the love of Terence’s life.
Their journey takes them deep into the Other World, the world of faery, where people and things are not what they seem. As they go alone, Gawain and his friends experience terror, love, despair, and shame. They display cleverness, courage, goodness, and honor. They perform feats that become the stuff of legend – and, at times, show us what earthy and even embarrassing reality might lie at the bottom of many long-revered legends. And when they return, they even manage to straighten out the problem of Lancelot.
Morris’s continued retelling of the deeds of Gawain adds a whole new dimension of fantasy surrounding Terence and other denizens of the Seelie Court. It shades in larger-than-life figures of revered legend in down-to-earth colors you can enjoy. And in its clear, direct, single-serving proportions it can prepare you to read, with greater enjoyment, still more detailed and mature retellings of the Arthurian legends, of which there seem to be no end. If you like tales of knights and chivalry, here is a side of them worth visiting.