Christmas Hero and Yuletide Tradition in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Author: Phelan, Walter
This intertextual study examines the motif of gift-giving or handsel, explores the Christmas Hero, and the rich culture of medieval crafts and entertainments, especially the drama and the carol. This neo-historical account of the energies of yule contains a diversity of contexts outside the Middle Ages, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Murder in the Cathedral. The book's innovative method involves semantic collation, a careful sifting through and alignment of the semes of two texts in a literary diptych, and concludes with a thesaurus of the vocabulary which follows the structure of the pentangle. Through the study of the concepts of Earth, Craft, Virtue, Christmas Joy, and Wound, the pentangle thesaurus brings some balance to the interpretation of the poem by correlating the elements of Creation and Incarnation. It concludes with speculations on the Gawain-poet's relationship to mysticism traditions, especially those indigenous to the North and Midlands in the late fourteenth century. With illustrations.


"... an innovative, challenging, exciting, and perhaps, in the best way, controversial work. . . . It is the critical methodology employed throughout the book as well as its explicit content and conclusions that make The Christmas Hero such an innovation in Gawain scholarship. Especially valuable are three appendices with detailed material on the metalanguage of the poem, an outline of scenes and the narrator's vocabulary in shaping the tale, and an analytical thesaurus of the text in support of the book's broad argument. . . . challenging for general and undergraduate reader, substantial and instructive in important ways for graduate students, and a major insight for scholars." - James A. Eby

". . . shows on almost every page a deep sensitivity for poetic creativity. . . . Phelan has busied himself with recapturing a feeling for the poet's act and procedure of creation, sensing what the original performance must have been like, based on a solid knowledge of the time. . . . Phelan's unique approach of casting far and wide to find commonalities in context reveals as much about SGGK as it does about all literature." - Juris G. Lidaka