A Tale of Human Desire

Some old stories survive for so long, despite cultural and social changes, because they hold some truths that are still relevant to us. The Marriageof Sir Gawain and Dame Rangell is one of them.

This story starts when King Arthur finds himself in the forest facing death by a mystical powerful knight. Instead of killing the king, the dark knight decides to offer him a challenge: to return within a year with the right answer to his question or to face his death. The question is - what do women most desire?

For a year King Arthur and Sir Gawain, his beloved nephew and one of the Knights of the Round Table, toured the country in search for the answer. Nearing the end of the year with no satisfying answer to be found, King Arthur was certain that he would be facing his death soon. It was then when a very ugly hag approached them on the side of the road. Her name was Ragnell. She proclaimed that she knew the correct answer, however in return for saving the king’s life she demanded that Sir Gawain would marry her. King Arthur was horrified by the idea that his nephew would marry such a repulsive creature, but Sir Gawain agreed on the condition that indeed she had the correct answer.

At the end of the year King Arthur faced the evil knight and repeated the answer provided by Ragnell – what women desire most, is to have their will (in early versions of the story the answer is – women desire the most is sovereignty, the ability to make their own decisions).

The evil knight knew that it was his sister who told the king the correct answer; she was the only one who knew it.

Loyal to his promise, Sir Gawain married Ragnell. It was a sad wedding where all the other knights felt sorry for him for marrying an unappealing woman instead of one of the many beautiful maidens who admired him. When the newly married couple retired to their bedchamber Ragnell asked Gawain to look at her. To his surprise there was a beautiful woman standing next to him.

Ragnell explained that their marriage removed the curse that caused her to look so hideous, but the curse was not completely removed. She could be beautiful only half of the day. She asked Gawain to choose which part of the day she should look beautiful: during the daytime when other people could see her, or during the nighttime when they are alone?

Gawain considered the question and then decided that it’s not for him to decide this for her. He asked her to make her own choice. In return Ragnell told him that by enabling her to have her own will in this, he not only removed her curse completely, but he also removed the curse that caused her brother to become the dark knight who threatened King Arthur’s life. 


For me this story is a good reminder of how important it is to respect other people’s will: women or men, adults or children. When people are adamant about their knowledge and their beliefs they stop asking questions, they forget to listen, they fail to see what is around them. In such a reality so much can be missed out on and then disasters and tragedies often follow.  This story reminds me of the Paul McCartney song Hope of Deliverance

What does this story mean to you?