Monday, May 8, 2023

Gawain before Kalamazoo

So, I'm now on the road, the first day of my trip to Kalamazoo.* After seeing the Glasgow panel I went back and re-read Tolkien's original lecture, which I had not looked at for a long time. The biggest takeaways for me include the speakers' use of the phrase "deep-rooted" to describe SGGK. They picked this up from Tolkien himself, who uses the these words at least three times in his essay, with great effect.

 Tolkien also makes several references to SGGK as a fairy tale, which may have struck the original audience as slightly odd but which a modern Tolkien reader will naturally link up with OF FAIRY-STORIES, first published just six years earlier. Similarly, a passing use of 'literary credibility' cd w. the benefit of hindsight be linked to OFS's secondary belief.

The part that really floors me is I think the same reason why this piece by one of the great scholars of his time (who specialized in fourteenth century literature) has been neglected. For Tolkien, Gawain's contest with the Lady is "a mere pastime" --not particularly important or interesting.  Instead, he argues that the most important event in the story is whether or not our hero made a valid confession before setting out for the final encounter with the Knight. I find it hard to accept that the Gawain-author wd have spent so much time and attention on what Tolkien sees as a side-issue and so little on what Tolkien argues is the main issue.

Still, I'm glad to see some belated attention come its way, and what others make of Tolkien's reading.

--John R.

--current reading: JRRT's THE BATTLE OF MALDON 

*so far we've got as far as Milwaukee

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