There was a time in my life when my goal was a PhD in Middle English Romances. Romances, for the uninitiated, are tales about knights and monsters, chivalry, and courtly love. All of the things you expect from a good fantasy these days. I ditched that path and am now a programmer (it’s complicated), but I’ve never really lost my love of the Middle Ages and the mystery that surrounds them. Studying medieval history always felt like a treasure hunt, where you’re constantly trying to uncover clues about an era with very little surviving information. We know a lot of what went on, but are still surprised when our assumptions are debunked.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (SGGK) is an interesting romance, because it does and doesn’t fit within the tradition. There’s a knight, Gawain, and his challenger, the Green Knight, but it glosses over a lot of what a more standard Romance like Sir Eglamour of Artois has — monsters, maidens, tournaments, magic rings — in favour of a lot of boring bedroom scenes and 50 lines of Gawain getting his armour on (pun intended). A section in the middle of the poem glosses over the battles he would have had while travelling, like fighting giants, in favour of complaining about how cold wearing metal armour is in the winter. It’s a romance that feels really down to earth, and that’s partly why I chose it as my starting point.
I think a lot of SGGK’s enduring charm comes from how different it is from the rest of the genre. Tropes are regularly thrown out in favour of what seems like a more real setting, where it’s entirely plausible that a giant green man might just show up at your Christmas dinner party and no one would be all that surprised. It’s a fantasy setting firmly rooted in reality, and that’s pretty cool. I wanted a bit of ‘the real’ to seep into Beast Fables, which is a story about animals (that fact already makes it pretty fantastical). So, I grounded the story in SGGK to help keep one foot in reality and make this is a retelling for the people. I hope you’re enjoying so far. There’s a lot more to go!