The Green Knight
The adjective that I’d use to describe this book is “sweet,” or maybe “charming”–you get the idea. As you can guess from the title, this is a retelling of the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The book focuses on Sir Bertalik’s wife, Vivien. It begins when her aunt, Morgan le Fay, takes her away from the convent where she’s been raised (her parents are dead). Chapman follows the traditional story quite closely, but she continues on after the legend ends. In her version, Vivien and Gawain fall in love; but when Sir Bertalik tells Gawain that Vivien only tempted him because Morgan forced her, Gawain concludes that she never loved him at all. Feeling betrayed, he flees, and Vivien follows after him.
Chapman writes with a lush style that feels like a Medieval romance. (Which is where the word “charming” comes in.) Since her vision of Arthurian Britain is one of chivalry and courtly love, this style works quite well. Her changes to the story, as well as her expanding of the backstory, are imaginative and well-executed. All in all, it’s a very pleasant read.
Morally, the book is mostly all right. The characters are all devout Christians, and while there are no profound spiritual insights, it is implied that their religion is true. Though Vivien loves Gawain, she still has to be forced into tempting him; and he resists her quite admirably. The only questionable elements are concerned with the fantasy elements of the story. Vivien learns some magic from her aunt, most of which is ordinary fantasy-type magic; but she also learns to cast horoscopes. And near the end of the book, Vivien and Gawain are talked into participating in a pre-Christian ceremony where they will be killed in place of Arthur, who will then be able to live another seven years.