Mythical Monday: The Apple Tree Man and the Green Knight, by Mae Clair

The next time you venture into an apple orchard, if you’re very lucky, you may discover buried treasure.

According to legend, sun-ripened apples don’t simply occur at the whim of nature, or even due to attentive care of the trees which bring forth fruit. The Apple Tree Man oversees the blossoming and ripening of the fruit, ensuring a good crop.

Apple trees with red applesThis orchard spirit is shy, taking up residence in one of the trees while he performs his supervisory tasks. He brings treasure with him, which can be found beneath the tree in which he’s taken up residence. Many have tried to seek out the treasure, but the Apple Tree Man is easily frightened and will quickly depart for another orchard, taking his treasure with him if disturbed.

Some believe he is distantly related to the legendary Green Man of the English countryside, also called Jack-in-the-Green, the Green Knight and Green George.

Unlike the withdrawn and timid Apple Tree Man, the Green Man is a jovial but wild figure tied to nature worship and fertility rights. He is a spirit of trees, nature and foliage. And yet this symbol of early pagan practices is often seen carved into Christian churches, abbeys and graveyards. It’s thought early Christian missionaries tried to adapt local beliefs and absorb them in a manner that kept new converts from feeling alienated.

Green Man English Pagan symbolThe Green Man is usually represented as a face peering from foliage; leaves for hair and beard, vines sometimes sprouting from his nose and ears. When he is depicted as a man, he is covered by leaves and vines, his skin the same green hue as the foliage which engulfs him.

I’ve read several books where the Green Man appeared as a character (most of them fantasy novels) and I vaguely recall a movie from the 1980s called Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

If I remember correctly, the Green Knight (played by non other than Sean Connery with that  killer accent) challenges the knights of King Arthur’s court to play a game with him…a game of life and death. He will allow anyone brave enough a single stroke with his axe to behead him. If the knight is unable to kill him with one stroke, then the knight must take a blow to the neck in turn.

None of the knights will take the challenge. Wanting to honor his king, Gawain, who is only a page at this point, bravely steps forward and announces he will play the game. He takes up the Green Knight’s axe and beheads him, but any elation in the court quickly sours — the Green Knight still lives. As the King and his knights watch, the creature retrieves his head and places it on his shoulders, announcing that Gawain must now suffer a blow as promised.

Gawain knows with one stroke of the axe he will die. But due to his bravery, the Green Knight proposes a riddle. He will return in one year.  If, at that time, Gawain has not solved the riddle, then he must bare his neck to the Green Knight’s axe and suffer the consequences.

Unfortunately, that’s all I remember. So, of course, I hopped over to Amazon and ordered the DVD. I remember the movie as being kind of cheesy, but I’ve always loved Arthurian Legend and I’m curious to see how it ended.

Do you remember any books or movies with the Green Man? Do you have a favorite Arthurian Legend or Knight?

28 thoughts on “Mythical Monday: The Apple Tree Man and the Green Knight, by Mae Clair

  1. Yah! Another Mythical Monday. I very much look forward to this to start out my week. I’m not up on my Aurthurian history, but I did have to read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for a college literature course. It was brutal as we had to read it in the original written language. In Scotland, there is also the mythical Green Lady, who has a place in the next book in my series. Whereas the Green Man sounds benevolent, there is speculation as to what this chicky is up to. 🙂

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    • Hi, Cd! Always happy to help you kick off a Monday! 🙂 I seriously doubt I could wade through any Arthurian legend in the original written language. That DOES sound brutal. And you have me intrigued about the Green Lady of Scotland. I can’t wait to see how she factors into your next book!

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  2. I remember this movie – Connery was awesome (and glowed green). I won’t spoil the ending for you … I liked the Crystal Cave series by Mary Stewart and the Once and Future King by T. H. White. I’ve seen most of the “Arthur” films and I think Camelot is better than Excalibur, but only by a teeny bit.

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    • Hi, Diane! I loved the Crystal Cave Series and the Once and Future King (one of my all-time fave reads) too. Great choices! I enjoyec both Camelot and Excalibur but was somewhat disappointed in Excalibur on viewing it years after it was made. I guess my original memory of it was different, but Nigel Terry was still fantastic. A bit of trivia: He and Cheri Lungi (who played Guinevere in Excalibur) were reunited in a series set in Medieval England called Covington Cross in the 90s. I was addicted to that show in the day, LOL.

      I can’t wait to see how the movie on Gawan and the Green Knight ends! My DVD has been ordered!

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  3. Amazing legend, Mae. And now I’m curious as to how that movie end. Being a Sean Connery fan, myself, I’m going to have to check out the DVD, too. Thanks for sharing.

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    • I hope you enjoy the DVD, Stanalei. I remember the movie came out at the same time as A Christmas Story and it had a Yuletide theme.The sets were great and I loved the way they had Sean Connery made up. Hopefully, my memory of the film holds up aganst the DVD when it actually gets here!

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  4. I love Arthurian Legends and I don’t know if I could find a favorite. However, I do like the legend surrounding Merlin,Vortigern, and the combative red and white dragons of Wales. Of course the red dragon symbolizes King Vortigern’s people and kicks the white dragon’s (Saxons) butt… Hence the Red Dragon on the Welsh flag (a legend I mention in my current WIP.) And did I mention the Lady of the Lake? She’s kind of fun too! Another great post Mae! Keep them coming…

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    • Oooh, great info on the red and white dragons of Wales. I can’t wait to see what you do with your WIP. I love how you weave history and legends into your romances.

      I’ve been intrigued by the Lady of the Lake and also Taliesin. In some stories I’ve read, he’s said to be Merlin’s father. So many fascinating tales!

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  5. Very cool, Mae. Laurell K. Hamilton writes an interesting Fae by the name of Galen in her Merry Gentry series, which is a bit lighter while also being quite a bit sexier than her Anita Blake vampire hunter series. Galen is sometimes referred to as the green man, and he has powers over foliage. Also, Susan Krinard wrote Lord of Legends (I think that’s the one I’m thinking of) with a part fae who was bound to nature in a way. The concept is intriguing to me, especially when woven in with romance.

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    • I like the sound of these, Jessi. I’ve always been partial to stories with the Fae and anything that draws on myuth. It’s great how many authors weave those fragments into their stories in unique and different ways!

      Thanks for sharing!

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  6. J.R.R. Tolkien did a really good translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that you might also check out.

    My favorite knight is Sir Gareth, Sir Gawain’s youngest brother. In my opinion, he is the most honorable of all the brothers. When Arthur is about to burn Guinevere at the stake for cheating on him, Sir Gareth refuses to wear armor in protest at how the king is handling things. Tragically, in the battle that ensues, because he isn’t wearing armor, Sir Lancelot, who adored Gareth, accidentally kills him.

    One way or another, though, there are lots of beheadings in Arthurian Legend. It appears the most popular form of death, macabre as that sounds.

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    • Hi, Laura! I was so ticked at Arthur for ordering Guinevere’s death and having her tied to the stake. Then again, I was also seriously ticked at Gwen and Lancelot for betraying Arthur. I have to admit my memory of Sir Gareth is foggy. Is he the one who rescued a woman who’d been cursed by a witch to look like a pig? He later married her and the curse was broken? Then again, I could have my brothers confused although Sir Gareth does indeed sound honorable!

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  7. When I was in Scotland last, we went to Rosslyn Chapel (most recently of Da Vinci Code fame) and it has over 100 carvings of Green Men! Some were pretty creepy, but I did buy a coaster with a picture of one and that is what I use at my desk at home. I think I also bought a booklet on Green Men too – hmmm, I wonder where I put that…

    But, I’d never heard of the Apple Tree Man. Very cool! I always learn something new on your blog! 🙂

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    • Lorraine, I am so jealous! Not only did you get to Scoltand, but you visited a chapel with all those carvings of the Green Man. They must have been very cool to see (even the creepy ones).

      The coaster sounds great! The perfect thing for a writer to use when creating. Glad I was able to introduce you to the Apple Tree Man. Every time I look at an apple I wonder how much involvement he had in it’s production, LOL!

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  8. The Apple Tree man is one legend I’m not at all familiar with. I’m glad he’s a friendly spirit.
    I’m thinking of an episode of Supernatural where a scarecrow type guy in an orchard was a monster.

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    • Hmm, I think I saw that episode of Supernatural, Emma. Was it an early one? Orchards in the right setting, can definitely be creepy, especially with all those contorted tree branches. I’m imagining one splattered by moonlight off a lonely stretch of road, perfect for creating some eerie mayhem!

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    • LOL! Wonderful to see you, Amadiex. Hope all has been well with you, and that your muse is gifting you with all manner of artistic drawings. I’m delighted to introduce you to the Green Man and the Apple Tree Man. It does bring a whole new insight to what goes on in an apple orchard, doesn’t it!? 😀

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    • LOL! Probably so, L.J. Looks like Sue was thinking along the same lines.:) At least the giant is jolly and doesn’t cart an axe around challenging people to beheading games. That would definitely make me think twice about corn and peas, LOL!

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  9. Wow, all kinds of great stuff here! I hadn’t heard of the Apple Tree Man, and I’ve lived in a couple of places where apples are big business. Maybe they don’t want him taking a cut of the profits. LOL I can’t wait to hear your report on the rest of the Sean Connery movie — talk about leaving us in suspense!

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    • Hi, Donna! I think you might have the right angle on the Apple Tree Man. He’s probably adding to that treasure he’s carting around with him from orchard to orchard, LOL. And yep, I can’t wait to see what happens in the movie. I’ll have to do Mythical Monday update! 🙂

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