Sunday, January 15, 2012

Beowulf - Book 2 of 52 in 52

Beowulf: A New Verse Translation by Heaney is an excellent rendering of the enduring ancient tale (far better than whatever version I read excerpts of in high school that I detested).  Beowulf, who as a youth first proved his strength in fending off and slaying a group of sea monsters, travels to the Danes to offer his assistance to King Hrothgar whose hall is under nightly attack by the monster Grendel.  After proving his strength and heroism against first Grendel and then Grendel's mother, Beowulf returns triumphant to his homeland.  Later after the death of his king and the king's son, Beowulf is made ruler of his people and reigns wisely for 50 years until a foolish slave stumbles upon a dragon asleep on an ancient hoard and steals a golden goblet.  The dragon awakens and begins to lay waste to the surrounding land in his anger.  Beowulf once again steps forward to defeat this latest monster, but his sword fails him.  The dragon is able to inflict a mortal wound before Beowulf slays the beast with his dagger.

I confess that I started reading Beowulf simply because it is one of those great books people say everyone should read and because it was on the list for my DD's Omnibus lessons.  I have to say I have truly come to love and appreciate the tale.  Yes, there is plenty of action to draw the reader's interest, but there is also beautiful imagery and description of a world that disappeared long ago.  The juxtaposition of the obvious Christian worldview of the original author and the futility of the pagan culture with its constant feuding and warfare has made for some excellent discussion with DD.  I would encourage anyone who has not read it to set aside their preconceived notions and read it for themselves.  You may be surprised and actually enjoy it.

1 comment:

Louise Wood said...

I loved the Heaney translation as an undergrad for its forthright and almost folksy wordings - "So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by / and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness." You can hear Heaney's eagerness to give us a tale that might have been heard around a campfire "in days gone by". An excellent choice.