Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Edited by J.R.R. Tolkien and E.V. Gordon
Oxford : The Clarendon Press, 1963. Later printing. Hardcover. 211 pages ; 20 cm. Missing dust jacket. Rubbing to boards, corners edge bumped, shelfware, fraying to head and tail of spine, and light soiling to boards as well. Pages are age toned and unmarked. Binding is firm.
The first endeavour of this edition has been to provide the student with a text which, treating the unique manuscript with all due respect, is yet pleasant for the modern reader to look at, and is free (as are few Middle English texts) from a litter of italics, asterisks, and brackets, the trail of the passing editor. The second has been to provide a sufficient apparatus for reading this remarkable poem with an appreciation as far as possible of the sort which its author may be supposed to have desired. Much of the literature that begins to gather about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, though not without interest, has little bearing on this object, and many of the theories held, or questions asked, about the poem have here been passed over or lightly handled—the nature and sig¬nificance of the ' test'; the sources, near and remote, of the story's elements and details; the identity, character, life, and other writings of the author (who remains unknown); his immediate motive in writing this romance; and so on.
On the other hand, the more linguistic part of the apparatus, which is principally directed towards determining, as precisely as possible, the meaning of the author's actual words (in so far as the manuscript is fair to him), is in proportion more extensive. The glossary, for instance, bulks unusually large. But to a certain extent, the author has made this inevitable. While a full glossary is still essential for students of any Middle English text that merits a close and scholarly attention, the vocabulary and idiom of Sir Gawain deserve as much as even Chaucer's best work (which has not received it) a full and careful analysis—one even fuller and more careful than has here been possible. The language is idiomatic, and the vocabulary rich. There are approximately1 as many distinct individual words as there are lines in the poem: a new word for every line.
Our thanks are due to Mr. J. F. Sharpe for his kindness in answering questions concerning the geography of lines 696-700; to Mr. C. T. Onions for his help on several points, and for his constant interest; to Mr. K. Sisam for personal advice and help ; to Sir Walter Napier for the loan of the late Professor Napier's notes. The general debt of a pupil, still freshly remembering Napier's skill in the elucidation of the difficult language of the poems of this manuscript, is thus greatly increased. Though not much of the present edition is derived directly from this source, it is noteworthy that many of the suggestions made independently by others are there found anticipated but unpublished.
J. R. R. T.
E. V. G.
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