Recommended obscure book: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Since The University sits in the middle of The Principality and doesn’t pay taxes, its public relations department is keen to promote good will among the locals, hence, we are allowed to audit classes at The University. It was my distinct pleasure to audit Prof. Vance’s excellent Middle English class last year.
Life is full of surprises, however, and early in the class I noticed that several of the students, who are paying nearly $40,000/yr on tuition, habitually didn’t read their assignments on time for the class. Being of the prior generation, I truly couldn’t figure out how they were able to show their faces, much less admit that they hadn’t done the reading. I simply don’t have any sense on humor about this. Back in the olden days we weren’t doing that sort of thing (it didn’t even occur to me, fool that I was), especially for $40,000. On the other hand, as The Husband put it, “it’s not their (the student’s) $40,000, it’s their parents”. That aside, the professor was very patient, erudite, and passionate about the topic, and the class was interesting and challenging.
The first challenge, aside from not tearing my hair out when hearing people hadn’t read their homework, was getting used to the language. Middle English is like Yoda reading Shakespeare on steroids, only difficult. I mean, this:
Thenne watz Gryngolet graythe, that gert watz and huge
Then Gringolet was ready, that great horse and huge. You get the idea.
Still, I did well enough to mostly understand what was going on with Sir Orfeo and a dozen other Sirs and Ladies, and by the time we got the The Canterbury Tales it all made sense. All the effort was definitely worth it. The Canterbury Tales was great fun, and take my word for it, the Canterbury pilgrims were up to no good, and loving it. A side benefit of taking a Middle English class is that you can impress your really-well-read friends at cocktail parties.
Of all the books we read my favorite’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It has everything an action/adventure story could need, plus romance, told in poetry of great lyricism:
But then the weather on earth battles with winter,
The Cold shrinks downwards, clouds rise higher,
And shed sparkling rain in warming showers,
Falling on smiling plains where flowers unfold.
Both open fields and woodlands put on green dress;
Birds hasten to build, and rapturously sing
For joy of gentle summer that follows next on the slopes.
And flowers bud and blossom
In hedgerows rich with growth,
And many splendid songs
From woodlands echo forth
The Broadview Literary Texts edition is in Middle English with facing translation by James Winny (and it’s beautifully translated), so you don’t have to sweat it. Go read it.