The Hawk of May, by Ann Lawrence

I'm busily reading my Christmas present books--this year I am determined not to have a sad little pile of them looking reproachfully at me come June! So when I got home today, I successfully ignored the distressing clutter that takes up far too much of my home, and curled up with The Hawk of May, by Ann Lawrence (Macmillan, 1980). Ann Lawrence is the author of one of my favorite books as a child (Tom Ass), and it's only in the last year or so that it occured to me that maybe she'd written more books, and maybe I'd like them! Fortunatly for me, she did, and I do (here are two others I've reviewd--Between the Forest and the Hills, and The Good Little Devil).

The Hawk of May is a retelling of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, mixed with the story of the Loathly Lady, and for an hour I was lost to the world, as I journeyed with Gawain through an imaginary medieval England as he sought to find the answer to the question "What do women really want?" Making the quest rather tense for Gawain is the small detail of loosing his head if he gets the answer wrong.

It's surreal, and beautiful, and thought-provoking, combining lovely world-building detail with touches of humor. There's magic, and intrigue, and the threat that all Arthur has build could come tumbling down...and there's Gawain himself, who means so well, and yet has much to learn (he's not the brightest hero going, but so likeable)*. It's somewhat meditative in its pacing, with many longish bits in which little Happens (don't expect battles and deeds of daring), but the slow and steady unfolding is shot through with beautiful flashes of the fantastic.

If you are at all a fan of Arthur retellings, seek this one out! It's not exactly a "kid's book," what with its focus on the relationships between men and women; rather, it seemed to me more like that rare thing, a fairy tale for grown ups that is written with the precision and sense of wonder that characterizes the best children's books.

*although why, I wonder, was his having fathered a child that he didn't know about thrown into the story, and then abandoned almost instantly? I was left wondering if it were true or not, and was somewhat vexed.


  1. This sounds great...will add it to my to reads. And oh boy, know what you mean about the sad little pile from last year. I swear I moved mine out of my sight line--it's weird but true.

    Happy New Year!

  2. 'precision and sense of wonder', thanks for describing that so well. I wish more books for children and for adults had it.

  3. Emily has read the Ann Lawrence I like - The Half Brothers. Maybe it would be familiar to you if you read it. I will have to find Tom Ass.

    I read your review of The Coming of the Dragon and was so delighted as we are big RS fans in my family. I promptly bought it for my nephew and was very disappointed to find his babysitter had bought it for him already (pretty astute of her). I picked out something far less appealing instead but will get it from the library for me.

  4. Um, wow? Charlotte, honestly! How have I not read this book yet? A fairy tale for adults and Arthur lovers? Yes, please.

  5. I have always loved Arthurian stories (even considered dissertating on them)and this sounds exactly like my kind of story. Thanks for the fine review.

  6. I hope you all who end up seeking it out enjoy it! It always makes me a tad nervous to recommend something enthusiastically...

    And I hope your nephew enjoys Coming of the Dragon, CLM! I actually have a copy of The Half Brothers--one of all too many being saved because I'm looking forward to them, and know I'll enjoy them!


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