Preserved on a single surviving manuscript dating from around 1400, composed by an anonymous master, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was rediscovered only 200 years ago, and published for the first time in 1839. One of the earliest great stories of English literature, after Beowulf, the poem narrates the strange tale of a green knight on a green horse, who rudely interrupts the Round Table festivities one Yuletide, casting a pall of unease over the company and challenging one of their number to a wager. The virtuous Gawain accepts, and decapitates the intruder with his own axe.
Gushing blood, the knight reclaims his head, orders Gawain to seek him out a year hence, and departs. Next Yuletide Gawain dutifully sets forth… His quest for the Green Knight involves a winter journey, a seduction scene in a dream-like castle, a dire challenge answered – and a drama of enigmatic reward disguised as psychic undoing.