cover image Gawain and Green Knight

Gawain and Green Knight

Mark Shannon. Putnam Publishing Group, $15.95 (1pp) ISBN 978-0-399-22446-1

The brothers Shannon valiantly fail at the improbable-a picture-book version of a dense, alliterative, complex medieval classic. As the tale opens, Gawain is ``the youngest and most inexperienced'' knight in King Arthur's court. After being teased by the members of the Round Table, Gawain is quick to accept the challenge issued by the Green Knight, who interrupts the Yuletide festivities to propose an exchange of blows. Gawain slices off the stranger's head, who then picks it up and calls Gawain to a meeting a year hence. Gawain travels long to find the appointed spot, enduring fierce winter weather before finding shelter in a castle. There he resists the offer of an allegedly magic sash, for in this version he has promised to wear a sash made for him by his girlfriend. The Green Knight therefore withholds his blow, telling him, ``You were true to the mysteries of your own heart.'' In the original, of course, Gawain (sans lady love) accepts the sash in hopes of saving his life, but is forgiven this minor fault-even a chivalrous Christian knight could not be perfect. Though David Shannon's chiaroscuro effects suit his eerie castle scenes and larger-than-life Green Knight, the mundane, altered text disappoints, giving no sense of the extraordinary language of the original, and so heavily adapted as to be an entirely new and lesser story. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)