Gawain slays Green Knight, challenges Blue Knight

By Davis Hill, Staff Writer



Welcome to the latest installment of “Classically Strained,” where we revisit classic literature in a modern context.

This week: King Arthur. The tales of King Arthur are among the most popular medieval stories, and for good reason. Arthur and his cronies—I mean knights—have all sorts of wonderful adventures involving maidens, swords, cups, dragons and above all, quests.

This can be misleading because the word “quest” is sort of a catch-all term. In Arthurian parlance, a “quest” can involve anything from rescuing a consort of enslaved knights to cracking open some “Ye Olde Brewskis” with Sir Bedivere and his squire.

So it’s easy to get lost in the Mirkwood of Broceliande. But for now, we’re only concerned with the highlights. Here are the stories you need to know:

“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:”

A green-armored knight challenges someone to strike him an ax blow, with the condition that they suffer the same blow from him a year hence. Gawain decapitates the knight, but the knight simply picks up his head and reminds Gawain that he has it coming. After many adventures referencing Christian mythology, Gawain finally manages to defeat the knight and retain his head.

Other versions exist, concerning different limbs: “The Blue Knight,” in which Gawain cuts off the knight’s arm; “The Yellow Knight,” which threatens his legs; and “Sir Gawain and the Grey Knight,” where Sir Gawain has to chop off his … well, nevermind.


Galahad is the son of Lancelot. It happened like this:

Lancelot goes to a castle and saves a maiden. The local king puts him up for the night, and a woman claiming to be Guinnevere taps on his door. Lancelot rushes in, and you know the rest.

The next morning, however, he realizes it’s the king’s daughter instead of Guinnevere. He is so angry that he storms outside and throws Excalibur into the water. Then, Sir Kay taxes the people of Nottingham in order to raise enough money to fight Grendel.

Finally, Morgan Le Fay takes a road trip to Ysgard, buys some magic beans and plants them. That is how Galahad was born.

Galahad is the best and purest knight, even better than Lancelot. It is Galahad who finally recovers the Holy Grail, after which he ascends to heaven.


Merlin is the greatest wizard in history. He is reputed to be the son of a demon, and his powers include magic spells, foresight prophecy. Legends tell of his infinite wisdom and his miraculous ability to predict the outcome of battles or politics.

In reality, Merlin’s magical “wisdom” was probably nothing more than an understanding of the causal relationship between actions and outcomes. Much of his advice is fairly obvious common sense: lock your chambers at night, look both ways when crossing the path and never accept magically enchanted candy from a strange fairy.

We have to remember, however, that knights in Arthur’s time suffered repeated blows to the head and had beer with their breakfast. They needed all the help they could get.

The Holy Grail:

Before Facebook, Twitter, reality television, video games and music videos, they had the Holy Grail: a magical relic that would solve all of the world’s problems forever. Because of this, knights frequently had powerful visions of the grail’s location.

These visions were very disruptive. You could be having a normal conversation, then suddenly someone sees a vision of the Grail, and now you have to go out riding and questing for weeks on end when all you wanted to do was read the Sunday paper.

Some scholars think the Grail symbolizes the perfect woman, which means that the only man worthy of her (Galahad) ascends into heaven. This puts them both out of the dating game. The moral of the story is that, at some point, we all have to settle.

Views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of The Easterner.