Let me test this theory out on you, O Blogosphere.
France’s great hero-king, Charlemagne, had a nephew. Roland. Or at least, so the cycle of hero-myths tells us. The pair of them are commemorated in the Chanson de Roland (11thc), where Charlemagne embodies France, and French Kingship. Roland, meanwhile, embodies France and French knighthood. Everybody with me so far?
England’s great hero-king, Arthur (sorry, no humourous videos), had a nephew. Gawain. Or at least, so the cycle of hero-myths tells us. The pair of them turn up all over the place in medieval English literature. Before someone imports Lancelot from the Continent, Gawain is the premier knight of Arthur’s court- take, for example, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (14thc). Arthur embodies England and English kingship. Meanwhile, Gawain embodies England and English knighthood. We have a parrallel, yes?
Back when I wanted to be an Arthurianist, and read all kinds of crappy Arthurian pop-history, quite a few books I read talked about the creation of the Arthur myth as a response to the French foundation legends centred around Charlemagne. Now, being old and wise, I’m willing to bet that there’s more to it than that. However, I do note that, in all my (fairly haphazard) research into the Gawain tales, lots and lots of people make comparisions between the ‘English’ Gawain and the ‘French’ Gawain- and squabble over which the Gawain of SGGK better embodies- but no one seems to step outside the Arthurian canon, which is odd. I’m not so sure that the fourteenth century would’ve drawn such a big distinction.
I have more Gawain-Roland relationships I can draw out, but I have to go and get ready for work now. So I’ll leave you to sit on this one- tell me what you think!