The Green Knight (novel)

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The Green Knight
First edition
Author Iris Murdoch
Cover artist Rembrandt, The Polish Rider
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Publisher Chatto & Windus
Publication date
Media type Print
Pages 472pp
ISBN 0-7011-6030-6
OCLC 34742768

The Green Knight is the 25th novel by the British writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch, first published in 1993.

Plot summary[edit]

The lives of Louise Anderson and her daughters Aleph, Sefton and Moy become intertwined with a mystical character whose destiny both affects and informs the novel's central conflicts which include a murder that never actually occurs, sibling rivalry, love triangles, and one extremely sentient dog who dearly misses his owner. This novel loosely parodies the Medieval poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; however, it is largely a comedy of errors with bizarre twists and turns in circumstances that threaten the stability of a circle of friends in a London community.


  • Louise Anderson, an emotionally repressed mother of three girls
  • Sefton, daughter of Louise, a student and lover of history
  • Aleph, daughter of Louise, an extremely beautiful and desired young lady
  • Moy, daughter of Louise, a psychic animal lover
  • Joan, a childhood friend of Louise and mother of Harvey
  • Harvey, Joan's son who breaks his foot
  • Clement, brother of Lucas who is also his nemesis
  • Lucas, a dark, Byronic figure who mentally tortures his brother Clement, the antagonist
  • Bellamy, a wannabe monk
  • Peter, a gentlemen who was assaulted by Lucas and has come back to demand reparation
  • Anax, a border collie who desperately misses Bellamy who gave him up to prove his Christian convictions

Major themes and symbols[edit]

The differentiation between madness and mystical power is a motif that surfaces throughout this novel. Murdoch employs the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as the skeletal structure of this novel; thus, elements of magical circumstances abound. However, they are all easily psychologically explained away by characters and, by extension, readers. This is the essence of magic realism, a genre of realistic circumstances and settings riddled with casually incorporated larger than life descriptions.

The struggle for power is another theme which circumscribes the lives of all of the characters, notably Lucas and Clement, Lucas and Louise, and Lucas and Peter. At the heart of this struggle, Lucas is somewhat of a demonic, yet charismatic, antagonist who wields his immorality like a sword.

The three sisters, Aleph, Moy and Sefton, Louise and her friend, Joan Blacket, symbolically suggest the archetypal representations of Morgan le Fay in Arthurian legend.

Moy relates oddly to the natural world and, if the reader interprets her character literally, is capable of psychokinesis. She has an odd relationship to and is empathetic with rocks, which she collects and stores in positions of honor in her bedroom, and animals, the most notable of which is Anax, a dog. Obviously, Moy's fascination with rocks can be seen as part of her inability to form human companionships. The rocks also have many other symbolic readings such as safety, childhood, the self, or the fairytale itself.