Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Given the amount of publicity surrounding the film of The Green Knight, I am a little surprised that there have not been multiple other adaptations of the story. I know of only one: this graphic novel from John Reppion and Mark Penman. Perhaps there have been others and I have missed seeing them, or perhaps the sheer gonzo nature of the story has put people off. Certainly Reppion and Penman had some interesting choices to make. More of that later, but first the easy bit.

John Reppion has a fine career as a comics writer behind him, but he also has one advantage that he can call upon when the right project arrives. This is absolutely the right project. Reppion is Alan Moore’s son-in-law, and thus the book has an introduction from the legendary writer and self-professed magus. I suspect it was a very easy ask. It is also no surprise that Moore’s short essay is well worth reading if you are interested in the source material. Who else would describe Geoffrey of Monmouth as a “bibulous Christian mythologist”?

On then to the hard bits. Reppion could have distilled the story into simple, elegant prose. He chose not to do so. Instead he has attempted to preserve the feel of the original work by writing much of the story in rhyme. That was very brave of him. I read the book on the plane to Montréal, so I haven’t had the chance to read it out loud. I should do so. I’m sure that will enhance the experience.

Then there is the art. Penman could, I’m sure, have treated us to some gorgeously realistic images. He has chosen not to. Instead he has gone for a cartoonish look, and a stark colour palette of black, white, green and red. Red is the colour of Arthur’s court, but also of fire and blood. Green is the colour of Bertilak, but also of the wood and its mystical terrors. It is a very bold choice, both in the look of the book, and in trusting the reader to go with a heavily stylized approach. I think it works, though I have only seen it on an iPad and would like to see on paper.

My main complaint about the film was that it failed the explore the relationship between Gawain and Bertilak properly. The graphic novel does better, but relies heavily on Penman’s art to tell us what Gawain is thinking as Bertilak collects the kisses he is owed. I think it is better than the film, but the form inevitably leaves a lot to the imagination and I suspect that many readers will fail at that.

As to the story, it is as obscure as ever. Reppion is a little harsher on Gawain than the original poem, but he makes no attempt to explain all of the weirdness. That’s probably just as well.

Of course most of you know the story anyway. You won’t be picking this book up wondering what is going to happen. You’ll be far more interested in how the story has been adapted to the medium. On that count I would say that Reppion and Penman’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a bold and imaginative approach to the material that is far more interesting than a simple adaptation would have been.

book cover
Title: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
By: John Reppion & Mark Penman
Publisher: Penman & Reppion
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