Most recently portrayed by Dev Patel in The Green Knight, Gawain is Arthurian legend’s most complex character. Director David Lowery and others talk about how the knight has changed over centuries
In the dark age of my childhood I loved the tales of King Arthur. My favourite knight was Gawain, the king’s nephew, who falls into shadow and then redeems himself at the end. For a year, maybe two, I followed his exploits with the clenched fanboy intensity that others reserved for footballers or singers, pursuing him through paperbacks and comic books, from Roger Lancelyn Green to John Steinbeck, as though each retelling was a fresh start, a brand new adventure. The other knights were largely fixed in place. They were signifiers of virtue (Galahad), evil (Mordred) or all-round knightly prowess (Lancelot). But Gawain jumped around. Gawain had an arc. He was, I now see, my first literary crush.
Arguably he jumped around too much, this indefatigable nearly-man of Arthurian legend (nearly pure enough to drink from the Grail; nearly tough enough to beat Lancelot in battle). Read one book and you’d come away thinking that Gawain was a hero. Read another and he was recast as a boorish thug. He was a lead actor in some, a bit-part player in others. He was variously brave, weak, brutish, venal and steadfast; as smart as a wolf and as dumb as a chimp. The more books I read, the more confused I became. You never quite knew where you stood with Gawain.