Saturday, December 22, 2007

Five best Christmas stories

Michael Dirda, a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic at the Washington Post and author of several books about books including the recent essay collection Classics for Pleasure, named a five best list of Christmas stories for Opinion Journal.

Number One on the list:
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Late 14th century).

Full of make-believe and festivity, this wonderful narrative poem possesses a Mozartean lightness and wit. Luckily, several modern versions, particularly those by W.S. Merwin and Simon Armitage, deftly replicate much of the feel and rhythm of the Middle English original. On New Year's Day an eerie Green Knight challenges a champion from King Arthur's court to exchange ax blows. Sir Gawain duly slices through the stranger's neck, only to see the decapitated torso pick up the head, which then speaks: Remember, the Green Knight says, to meet me in a year and a day at the Green Chapel. But where is that? The following winter, riding to what must be certain death, Gawain finds himself alone and desolate on Christmas Eve. Miraculously, a castle hoves into view. There the famous knight is welcomed by a red-bearded lord, the man's beautiful lady and a hideous bent-backed old woman. For the next three days Gawain savors all the sumptuous delights of the Christmas season -- while each morning in his bedchamber the seductive wife tempts him to surrender to more sinful pleasures. There are, however, mysteries about this castle -- and they are not resolved until Gawain fearfully bows his head to receive the promised ax stroke from the Green Knight.
Read about the other titles on Dirda's list.

--Marshal Zeringue