Friday, December 14, 2007

Morgan le Fay and the Green Knight

I have received favourable feedback from my tutor regarding my creative response to the romantic text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:
I do think this has worked out exactly along the lines you described to me. While the first paragraph, perhaps in taking off, read to me like the story was geering up to pour in all the fantasy clich├ęs (flaxen hair, eddies of the stream, thundering torrent, rugged slope, tinkling bells), it then strikes out on its own and becomes quite irresistible. Really enjoyed it and found the take on the romance imaginative, enthusiastically realized, and coherent in terms of both the ‘logic’ of the narrative and the consistency of your writing style. You are convincing me of the approach you’re taking.
I guess then, it is time to revisit the textual elements I have used but not yet covered...

You will remember from my blogs posts in November, Part 1 and Part 2, how I broke down my decision making regarding descriptions, choice of subject matter and the use (or perception of use) of magic. You also know that I chose to base my creative response on Morgan le Fay - arch nemesis of Camelot - and opted, as I discuss in my analysis document of the piece (a requirement of the course), to consider my subject matter thusly:

The romance of Gawain exists as a quest, but through my response I am subverting the genre. Bertilack is a Lord and therefore superior to other men, but as Morgana proves, he isn’t superior to his environment. Therefore my response falls in the mode of high mimetic. Northrop Frye states that “romance divides into two main forms: a secular form dealing with chivalry and knight-errantry, and a religious form devoted to legends of saints.[1]” I see the Gawain romance as treading both paths. Its focus is on knight-errantry but at its heart is a call of faith. While my response covers similar ground, much of the conflict regards the faith argument and I use it not only to highlight Morgana’s standpoint and the theme of the piece, but to create symmetry between the original text and my response, and between Gawain and Bertilack [2].

[1] Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism p33-4 ISBN 0-691-01298-9

[2] “…he recited his Paternoster and Ave Maria and Creed with a promise to thenceforth serve none other than God.” – Richard Howse, Morgan le Fay and the Green Knight


The original opening isn't much different from the one I have written. Though, thanks to the workshop session, several things had to change. And here is where the workshops are essential in spotting those elements that will trip up the reader (as Solvejg once found with Tethered Light and our assumptions of Binky). First and foremost were the characters - the girl and the Green Knight. One wasn't properly depicted as a child and later when I talked about her being an infant, my readers struggled with the concept change (how old is she?). Next was the headlessness of the Green Knight: if he's headless, why isn't this put to the front of his description (it would be the first thing the girl notices)? And to stop the reader worrying... where is the head?

She waitied; the child, sitting naked but for the green girdle at her waist and the shroud of flaxen hair covering her shoulders and chest. High up in the linden tree she dangled her legs playfully amongst the heart-shaped leaves, as if she were dabbling her feet in the eddies of the stream that frothed and foamed far below the boughs. Over that thundering torrent, which twisted down the rugged slope, she heard the tinkling of bells from beyond the glade. A visitor, they intoned through the jutting crags and black jagged outcroppings that led into the valley. That was long before she saw him at the knarled rocks. Long before he’d guided the horse down the ravine.

He arrived headless; the Green Knight, built the size of a half-giant. Despite the mutilation he carried himself with both poise and grace, swaying with the rhythm of the horse’s lollop. He brushed a coat of snow from his charger’s green mane with the looped reins and nudged his golden spurs into its flanks.

The girl watched, fascinated, and the knight shook white clumps from his green shoulders and the bloody stump of his decapitation, which spat flecks of crimson upon his tunic and mantle as he rode.

But where was his head?

She fingered the leaves apart to better see him from bleeding-shank to unshod feet – every inch of him glorious, every stitch, green – and she grinned when she spied his flowing tresses. The knight was carrying his head beneath one arm, as a soldier might carry a stock of weapons, his piercing stare surveying the burial mound that rose up beyond the tree.

Knowing your Audience

In a submission, the opening is everything. Now the reader is intrigued by both the naked girl and the headless knight. For those who know the Gawain text, it will be just the girl, but then, they will understand the meaning of the green girdle. I was distinctly aware as I wrote the piece that it plays to two separate audiences in different ways, and I had to make sure that as the piece played out, those who don't know the Gawain text required as much backstory to the situation as possible - enough for them to let go of any concerns that there is a headless knight wandering around and, of course, a naked (and rather fearless) girl:
‘Was I not right,’ she said, ‘when I told you the game couldn’t be refused? That Camelot cannot resist a challenge to its valour? Come, for there is a tale to tell and I am an ear to hear it.’

‘Well, my lady,’ he said when he’d calmed his consternation, his throat belching and spitting, ‘I arrived at Camelot during the festivities of their Christmas feast, and there, as you instructed, I called them to action, setting down both the game of exchanging blows and the rules by which the players would abide. King Arthur was to strike at me, and I, so saying at your request, stated that he was to seek out the Green Chapel in one year and one day’s time, where he would receive a stroke in return.’
Point of View

This has been a large stumbling block for me up until this year. Not only would I sweep back and forth between the points of view of different characters, but I would switch povs mid-paragraph (sometimes mid-sentence), and then there were the times where I would accidentally change the subject of a sentence or paragraph, leaving the reader desperately confused about who meant what to whose which and why?


With this piece, I believe I have solved these errors and specifically chosen to use multiple points of view to relate as much of both sides of the argument as I can - third person omniscient. In a short stories, point of view changes are not recommended because the reader needs to identify with a character quickly and empathise with them - otherwise in the majority of cases the writer is wasting their time because there are no hooks for the reader's interest to hang on. With my use of third person omniscent I am specifically choosing who the reader learns from and witnesses the scene, not as a means of identification, but so as to best understand at any given time, the important aspects of the story and what it means to each of the characters.

We start off with the girl, watching the Green Knight's arrival. We stay with her in a semi-distanced state, never once entering her head, but regarding what she does , what she observes and the questions she is wondering about. Then, towards the last half of page 2, we switch into the Green Knight's pov:
He hesitated. His horse drew back towards the river’s roar and both regarded the girl as if seeing her for the first time. She was barely tall enough to reach up to the horse’s flank, too fragile to bring harm to any but the tiniest of rodents, and yet surprise and suspicion furrowed the knight’s brow. This was no mere child.
And we stay with the Green Knight, because it is always more interesting for the reader to be on the back foot. The Green Knight doesn't fully understand the situation and by identifying with him the reader can be a part of his investigation and anxiety about what is unfolding. Along with him we observe the child:

The girl listened with her head cocked to one side and she made a steeple of her hands as if she might venture into prayer, but instead she let her fingers play and fidget... and the girl balled up her fists and shook from head to foot... The girl swore under her breath and stamped her feet and the golden carpet scrunched and crinkled; a thousand yellow leaves perishing to black... The girl halted, her hands at her sides, not balled but playfully stroking thumbs across fingers as if she were enjoying the texture of an oily substance. She spoke then with a malevolence that he’d have felt even in full armour for it pricked at his hackles.
Whereas we have the knight's concerns, questions and feelings:

The Green Knight turned his eyes down to the leaves and bowed his headless torso to hide his shock at her bloodlust. Morgan le Fay had said nothing of her intentions when they’d made their compact. She’d spoken only of the game... He had survived Gawain’s beheading blow, just as le Fay had said he would; snakes could do him no harm, though her wrath may yet... The knight watched, in awe that the girl’s desire yielded fruit from a fruitless tree... He saw no sign in that angelic face that she was deceiving him and yet he pondered her words about his faith and his God. Where had either been when he’d needed them in his quarrel against the Bastard Lords? Where had either been when those lords had intended to usurp his lands?
The Green Knight is our protagonist, we need to identify with him most of all (whether or not it will end well).

I will be posting my entry for the module over on my website as soon as it is ready for submission.

No comments: