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Unlike the withdrawn and timid Apple Tree Man, the Green Man is a jovial but wild figure tied to nature worship and fertility rights.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?