Adaptations of the Arthurian legend have long been popular in Hollywood, but as with superhero films, many of these films are drawn from various sources and have focused on the origin story: Arthur Pulls the Sword Out. stone, becomes king of all the British, launches the order of the Knights of the Round Table, and enters pseudohistory. The green knight, released on July 30, is an exception: director David Lowery relied solely on late 14th-century romance Sir Gauvain and the Green Knight as the basis of his film, and the editors of the poem are taking advantage of this decision.
The poem was written in Middle English by an anonymous author known alternately as the Poet Gauvain and the Poet Pearl. In it, King Arthur’s nephew Sir Gwain accepts the challenge of a huge, green-skinned knight, who offers his ax if Gwain hits him with it. The catch is that the knight will deal a blow to Gauvain a year later in return.
Penguin Books has reissued one of two translations of the poem originally published by Penguin Classics in an official renamed edition. The green knight, with a new preface written by Lowery. (The penguin said TP that there is precedent for such title changes to classical works surrounding related publications, indicating Turning, the edition linked to the film by Henry James The turn of the screw, which was released in 2019 alongside the release of the film adaptation under the new name.) The first run is 25,000 copies.
WW Norton publishes its own commercial and critical editions of the poem and reprints over 5,000 copies of Simon Armitage’s 2007 translation with a rewritten cover copy, making this an unofficial link. Norton’s sales team “will keep a close eye on this one if it becomes necessary to pull additional levers,” the publisher said.
Matt Klise, associate editor of Penguin Books, noted that Penguin chose to use Bernard O’Donoghue’s 2007 translation for the link, rather than Brian Stone’s 1959 version (which he referred to as ” beautifully lyrical and much appreciated “), because Donoghue’s O ‘Le vers” had a more contemporary tone than we thought was more immediately accessible “to newcomers. He added that there is a “stable academic market” for the two Penguin Classics. Sir Gauvain and the Green Knight translations.
“As David Lowery acknowledges in his introduction, like a lot of people, he knew the poem from having read it in school,” Klise said. Links, he added, give publishers a chance “to capture the excitement that a film generates and use it to put a book into the hands of new readers, both those who haven’t. never heard of the story before and those who knew it. but I haven’t been prompted to read it yet.
Klise pointed the finger at Netflix The Haunting of Hill House as another example of an adaptation that has brought “a ton of new readers to every edition of the book we publish, not just the link.”
The poem has been adapted for the screen before, including in two Stephen Weeks films, in 1973 and 1984, with Sean Connery playing the role of the Green Knight in both, and in a 2002 animated film and episode of the Cartoon Network show. Adventure time in 2017. The BBC also broadcast a documentary hosted by Armitage in 2009.
Most of the adaptations deviated from the original text to some extent. While Lowery’s movie does that too, that, Klise said, is part of the problem. “He urges everyone to read and reread the poem, and to try to read different translations,” he said. “He understands how a text as old as this one remains vital and open to reinterpretation. So I am delighted to see how the link is done in the market. There’s a lot of buzz for this movie, and I think we’ve put together the perfect edit to show everyone how beautiful, captivating, and mysterious a poem that’s over 600 years old can be.
Sir Gauvain and the Green Knight has been translated several times over the years and has sold regularly. Stone’s translation has sold over 22,000 copies since NPD BookScan began tracking bookstore sales in 2001, while O’Donoghue’s translation, published a few months before Armitage’s in 2007. , has sold over 7,500 copies. The Armitage translation sold just under 55,000 copies.
Other older translations also sold well. Arthurian scholar Jessie L. Weston’s 1909 prose translation, originally published by Scribner, has sold nearly 8,500 copies in a Dover edition since its publication in 2003. Burton Raffel’s translation in 1970, published by Signet Classics in a paperback, has sold over 50,000 copies to date, while JRR Tolkien’s translation of 1979, published by Random House, has sold nearly 80,000 copies.
A version of this article appeared in the 09/08/2021 issue of Editors Weekly under title: editors see Green in “Green Knight”