Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Green Man

A Folklore figure symbolizing Fertility, often carved in old churches as a Foliate Head. His mythic provenance is suggested by Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (14th century), wherein a literally green Giant stalks into Arthur's court challenging all comers to behead him; when Gawain does so, the GM replaces his severed head and requires Gawain to accept a return blow a year later. Echoes of the severed, regrowing head appear in the folksong "John Barleycorn" and the maize legend in The Song of Hiawatha (1858) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882). As with the benevolent "Person with Horns" in Elizabeth Goudge's Pastoral The Herb of Grace (1948), the GM seems sometimes conflated with the Horned God of animal fertility.

In J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), the Ents provide a different vision of personified vegetation, partly based on Arthur Rackham's drawings of gnarled, twisted Trees. The literal GM of Kingsley Amis's The Green Man (1969), is a woodland Elemental of animated branches (> Animate/Inanimate).

Julius Caesar's black-propaganda report that British druids set fire to wicker giants containing live Human Sacrifices inspired The Wicker Man (1973). Celtic Legends do not support this tale, but abound with Heroes who go mad and run Into the Woods to live as beasts: examples are Suibhne Geilt (featured as Sweeney in Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds [1939]), Bladud the Birdman, Lancelot, Merlin and Tristan. The GM, Wild Man and Jack in the Green have boiled together in the Cauldron of Story, as implied in Robert Holdstock's Ryhope Wood sequence. [JH/DRL]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.