Gawain and the Green Knight is a retelling of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” – a classic 14th-century Arthurian tale told in verse. In the story, Gawain is challenged to a duel by the Green Knight if he agrees to receive a blow in a year and a day. The Green Knight is beheaded, and Gawain goes on a quest, which tests his honor via a number of dangers and temptations.
It’s a tall order for a young fantasy author to take on a project that also has a translation by J. R. R. Tolkien and many others, as it’s one of the most popular Arthurian legends, but Emunds’ absolute passion for this material means that he is up to the task.
Emunds’ take on the story is to emphasize the spiritual underpinnings of this story. This is not a new interpretation – Gawain is seen as representative of Christ – but Emunds’ focus is early mystical Christianity, which incorporated such tenets of Eastern religions like karma and even reincarnation, and so his emphasis lends new color to an old story.
Taking the oftentimes-stilted language of popular translations and bringing it into a modern fantasy context helps give new perspective on Gawain’s quest, while in no way simplifying his message. For some readers, the archaic language of the original is part of the fun, but Emunds’ retelling is plenty fun itself. It was a bold move to use the present tense to tell this story, but it helps gives his translation an immediacy that is appropriate for a modern fantasy novel. The book is less effective when Emunds tries to mimic the grandiosity of the original text, and instead uses modern language, as that is where the book is at its best.
Overall, it’s a curious and compelling take on “Gawain” that helps fill in some of the gaps, so the novel is an entertaining read for those familiar with the original story, or if this is their introduction.