The Green Man was one of several historical novels that Treece wrote late in his career, works that embody a rather pessimistic worldview despite Treeces own professed Christian beliefs and Beowulfs suggestion that all religions have common roots. Treece points out in a note that the main plot of The Green Man, the Hamlet story, comes originally from Saxo Grammaticus, a Danish priest (c. 1150-1220). Treece has added a deliberately realistic and antiromantic version of the Arthur legend as well as the likely, but hardly heroic, tale of Beowulf.
Brought in as well are various elements of other European myths. The leaders of the Picts are a brother, Orest (Orestes), and his sister, Elekt (Elektra), who carry back their ancestry to the Greeks. Even the great labyrinth of Crete is reproduced in the Jutland maze, where the Danes dance in sexual abandon in order to cause the earth to produce. In short, the novel attempts to synthesize many of the violent and sexually charged myths of the Europeans in order to develop what Treece says is his theme: In real life, the meek do not inherit the earth.
Although Gilliberht himself is a minor character, his framing letters are the keys to this theme. The awful lives and terrible deaths of the main male characters are the proofs. Perhaps even more important is what happens to the “unimportant” and the weak, particularly the women. In a sense, Treece is criticizing patriarchy, but, more...
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