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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo

3.98  ·  Rating Details  ·  8,061 Ratings  ·  198 Reviews

A collection of three medieval English poems, translated by Tolkien for the modern-day reader and containing romance, tragedy, love, sex and honour.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Pearl are two poems by an unknown author written in about 1400. Sir Gawain is a romance, a fairy-tale for adults, full of life and colour; but it is also much more than this, being at the sam

Mass Market Paperback, 165 pages
Published January 1980 by Ballantine Books (first published 1400)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Laurel Hicks
Such a lovely collection of fourteenth century gems! Sir Gawain is a delight, of course, as is this version of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, but it is Pearl that has swept me away.

I've heard about the Pearl Poet since high school, but for some strange reason had never read the Pearl Poet's Pearl. I'm reading it as a father's (or mother's) consolatory thoughts after losing a toddler daughter to death. The narrator runs his mind through the Scriptures, starting in Matthew and then going back to G
Nov 29, 2012 Meghan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sir Gawain was one of the books I studied in college that only received the perfunctory attention of desperate, late-night skimming before the class in which it was to be covered. Once I actually sat down to read it, I enjoyed it as the best chivalric romance I have yet to read. Sir Gawain's uncomplicated approach to his knightly duty, and his calm preparations for his certain death - green girdle aside - is beautiful. The translated poetry is pretty, and the adventure part is fun. The poem is a ...more
Peter B.
Jan 02, 2015 Peter B. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stories-poetry
I really enjoyed Tolkien's translations of these English medieval poems/tales, especially "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and "Sir Orfeo." "Pearl" was a little harder to enjoy, though it had its moments. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" held the suspense well and made a good point. "Sir Orfeo" read very smoothly and was as you would think a medieval tale should be.

In Britain all these lays are writ,
there issued first in rhyming fit,
concerning adventures in those days
whereof the Britons made
Megan Larson
Oct 27, 2009 Megan Larson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Megan by: TWTM
I was so excited to learn that I could study the Middle Ages and read Tolkien at the same time! It really is amazing how so many different works of literature are tied together somehow. I had been studying Arthur and his knights, and had read Tolkien's biography separately, to prepare myself to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In that biography I learned about Tolkien's interest in Middle-English as one of his favorite languages, and also of his enduring commitment to the Catholic faith and a ...more
Jesse Whitehead
Jan 16, 2012 Jesse Whitehead rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tolkien has become synonymous with fantasy literature in the last twenty years. His fame and reputation in that regard are well deserved. His fantasy work has been badly copied and misinterpreted by authors and artists and game designers nearly since its inception.

For many years before he wrote The Hobbit and the subsequent works of fantasy Tolkien was one of the foremost scholars on medieval literature and philology. Philology is the study of the structure, historical development and relationsh
Nov 07, 2014 Liam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As good as a re-read of Arthurian legend ever gets, made better by Tolkien's translation.
Alexis Kloehn
Jan 10, 2014 Alexis Kloehn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” plot was filled with adventure. The Green Knight challenged King Arthur to a beheading game. The game’s main purpose was to test strength and chivalry. King Arthur had one strike with the Green Knight’s axe to kill him. He could keep the axe if he succeeded, but if not the Green Knight would get the same opportunity in a year and one day.
The main characters were all very unique. The Green Knight was also the king of the green chapel, he transforms between the tw
Mariah Hansen
“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is a tale about chivalry and the meaning of loyalty. This book takes place in the 11th century. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” really made me open my eyes about chivalry and how it has died out in recent centuries. I really liked this book even though it was a hard read.

Sir Gawain, the main character, is faced with many challenges in this book. The Green Knight mocks Sir Gawain and the king. Sir Gawain stands up and agrees to fight the Green Knight instead of
Abby Moreland
Jan 23, 2014 Abby Moreland rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tolkien, obviously, has a way with words, and the way he kept the alliteration and the beautiful word dynamic in these translated texts was superb.
Charley Robson
This Gawain story is one of my favourites, and is a lot of fun to read regardless of your familiarity with either the legends or the sort of academic study that really brought it to life for me. Gawain's journey is unorthodox, the lessons learned complex, and all in all it's a worthy, intelligent story with lots to say and a damned good way of saying it.

Sir Orfeo, my brain finds it more difficult to place. While the story itself - of a king gone to rescue his queen from a conniving fairy - is cl
Octavia Cade
Apr 10, 2016 Octavia Cade rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, arthurian
Translations of three (mediaeval English) poems. I enjoyed "Sir Orfeo"; was a little less enthused about "Gawain" but got into it eventually. The real revelation of this collection for me, however, was "Pearl". I'd heard of it before, and it's the one I expected to like the least. It's an incredibly religious poem, and I am incredibly not-religious, but subject matter aside there are passages of such beauty in it that I've gone back to this poem several times over the past few days, just to read ...more
Nick Klagge
Dec 23, 2013 Nick Klagge rated it liked it
I am a Tolkien fan and acquired this book years ago. I picked it up recently while casting about for something short to read. I was very pleasantly surprised by it. For something originally written in the Middle Ages, "Gawain" is an engaging read--I would say much more so than Tolkien's translation of another Middle-Ages epic, "The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun." I think a lot of the difference was just in the fact that "Gawain" comes from a culture that is recognizably "mine." Even if the setting ...more
David Sarkies
Sep 28, 2011 David Sarkies rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adventure
This middle English poem is said by some to be the greatest poem of the Middle English literature, however it does have to compete with The Canterbury Tales for that title, something that I am not going to go into since I have not have the chance to read Chaucer's work at this stage. However, this poem, while the earliest copy exists on a manuscript dating back to 1400 AD, probably has its origins much earlier than that. The actual author of this poem is unknown (and my suspicions is that it is ...more
Hannah Haertl
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a narrative poem. When the Green Knight enters Camelot, he goes around asking who’s in charge. When King Arthur answers the Green Knight, he agrees to his game. Right as King Arthur is about to accept the challenge, Sir Gawain steps up to the plate and had to explain to the King that it would be better for him to accept it than King Arthur. Once excepting the role for King Arthur, Sir Gawain is put to the task of the beheading game and realizes after his blow t ...more
Nov 13, 2013 Nicolas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Erik Graff
Aug 04, 2014 Erik Graff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: mediaeval literature fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: literature
In order to affordably obtain The Oxford English Dictionary, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the history series by Will and Ariel Durant, I joined The Book of the Month Club on three occasions during my years in Manhattan. Although subscriptions ostensibly required the purchase of four books, the Club actually would allow discontinuance after three. Thus I must have purchased at least nine books from the Club in addition to the three come-on offers. This book was one such purchase.

The decisio
Mandi Lynn
Sep 14, 2015 Mandi Lynn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At one point I wanted to tell Gawain to man up, leave the castle and riches, and go get beheaded by the green knight because the story was taking so long and I had such a hard time seeing the point of everything that was going on. But everything goes together in the end and makes you go "ohhhh!" a good way of course haha. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the story and got emotionally involved.
Cristine Braddy
The number of stars I give this book shouldn't be given any attention. I want to love it but honestly it's not my thing. As much as I tried to connect with it, I just couldn't. Oh well! Medieval poetry may not be my thing. :)
Jan 29, 2008 Antoine rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: rabid Tolkien fans, who have already read the Penguin translation
Though I yield to none as a Tolkien fan, and (as he also did with Beowulf) Tolkien "wrote the book" on the Gawain Poet, I find that this translation is not a clear lens through which to view the original poem. It seems almost as if Tolkien was unwilling to drag the poem all the way into modern English, or was trying to preserve some elements of the distinctive midlands dialect in which it was written. Either the way, the results are difficult and challenging; one feels it might almost be better ...more
Leandro Guimarães Faria Corcete DUTRA
Need to reread. Ideally in the original! ;-)
Jacopo Piermattei
Jul 11, 2015 Jacopo Piermattei rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Sei proprio tu la perla che ho pianto
per tante notti nutrite di lacrime?
Chiusa nel cuore ho tenuta l'angoscia
da quando nell'erba via te ne fuggisti."

Traduzione di una traduzione, dall'inglese antico all'italiano,passando per l'inglese moderno. 3 testi legati solo (o quasi) solo dal loro traduttore,Tolkien. E' quindi difficile consigliare questo testo, anche se io non avendo letto nessuno dei 3 scritti originali son comunque riuscito ad estrapolarne informazioni,dati,curiosità e tanto altro (aiu
Jan 20, 2015 Jason rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
These translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo are wonderful reads of three major lyric verses of the middle ages. All three were translated by JRR Tolkien, and edited with the help of colleagues. Tolkien, was, of course, a long time professor and expert in of Anglo Saxon writing and also of English language and literatureThese particular translations were found in Tolkien's unpublished works by his son, Christopher, who has published other works by his father posthum ...more
Oct 02, 2015 Lisa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lisa by: Potter's School Classical Track Year 3
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a 14th century Arthurian romance written in alliterative verse.

In part I King Arthur and his knights are feasting in Camelot on New Year's Day. After King Arthur asks his men to recount a tale of adventure, a giant knight with green complexion, holding a green axe, wearing green clothes, and riding a green horse, enters and brags of his great prowess as a knight. He then issues a challenge to King Arthur's men to prove their superior might: one of them must str
Jun 23, 2015 Raymond rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, poetry, mythology
(from my blog:

Here we are at the beginning of Christopher Tolkien's quest to publish everything his father had written. Unlike the obsessive collections of unfinished stories and notes, however, this one features pieces that appear to be untouched and readable, if not drafts definitely meant for public eyes.

None of these translations are in a "modern style," or perhaps I should say that they aren't dumbed down as most popular presentations tend to be. They are
Oct 15, 2015 Tamara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tolkien's translation is by far the best, not just bringing his phenomenal erudition to the subject but casting the poems in a readable modern English which nevertheless retains the mood of these works as 500 years old.
Other translations I have read try to cast them in completely modern colloquial language which not only dates extraordinarily quickly but feels less believable from the beginning.
My only disappointment - I had a volume comprising these three works when I was a kid and it had the
emma grace
I only read Sir Gawain; I decided not to dig into the other two. It was pretty good. A little long-winded at times, but enjoyable.
A collection of three medieval English poems translated by Tolkien, including "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," "Pearl," and "Sir Orfeo". "Gawain" is a great story, and the alliterative poetry is pleasurable to read, but to modern ears the poem may drag on a bit too long. "Pearl" is shorter and, with its rhymed verses, may be more palatable for modern readers. It deals with the death of a man's young daughter, and a vision of her in Heaven, where she rebukes his petty and ill-considered concern ...more
Alexander Rolfe
Jun 15, 2014 Alexander Rolfe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's fun to be in the Arthurian world with no hint of its downfall for a change. (The kids know all the songs to Camelot, so it seems like we're always hastening to its demise.)

The Pearl, about the loss of a young daughter, is really good. Stanza 7 is too long to repeat, but it's really fun to say aloud. I think the pearl was the poet's own child, because it left marks on his theology. Most of the poem is a dialogue with her at the edge of heaven, wherein we learn some interesting things:
1. Reas
Joel Mitchell
Jan 19, 2016 Joel Mitchell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry-plays
This is Tolkien's translation of three medieval poems: "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," "Pearl," and "Sir Orfeo." Of the three, I liked "Sir Gawain" (a tale from the Arthurian mythos) the best because the alliterative verse was very well executed and is unusual in modern poetry.

I did not care for "Pearl" (a Roman Catholic treatise on the death of a child). It did not really match the heroic/chivalry/fairytale theme of the other two poems, and I did not agree with its theology.

"Sir Orfeo" fol
David Mosley
Jan 06, 2016 David Mosley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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