Beowulf by an Anglo-Saxon Poet

Beowulf
BO wolf? God… sounds a bit rank.

Beowulf we have an odd history with. It was the first work we were pretty much ordered to buy as part of our english literature course at university back in September of 2003.

It was the first lecture and the professor told us all to go off and read the thing, Seamus Heaney’s adaptation. Our teachers had already bored us rigid at GCSE level with overly detailed analysis of his poems.

We’re a bit negative about the work, but it’s certainly one of the most historically important texts of Old English Literature. And we have no idea who wrote it.

Beowulf

Consisting of 3,182 lines, it was apparently written between 975 and 1025. But as we don’t know who’s behind it, that open to all sorts of opportunity for wild interpretation. Aliens, anyone?

The story is in Scandinavia, where the hero Beowulf (or beer wolf) assists the King of the Danes – Hrothgar.

A diabolical monster called Grendel is laying waste to the King’s residents and beer wolf (sorry, BO wolf) sets out to slay the horrifying beast.

He accomplished that and returns to Sweden as a celebrated sort. Half a century later, a dragon arrives and he slays that as well… but is mortally wounded.

The story closes with Beowulf’s subjects creating a memorial for him.

Due to its age the story is, of course, rather formulaic in its structure. But the enigma that it is does make the epic poem rather fascinating.

The old English itself is interesting to read over as it represents an era of language far removed from our own. But that will either engage you, or leave you rather disinterested in the vagaries of the plot.

But it’s a legendary piece of literature, for many a student it’ll have a place in their heart.

For us, it was the ridiculous situation the lecturer provided when he told all those 18 year old students in Nottingham to head out and buy the first book of the semester.

As such, a seige of us descened on the campus book store to purchase this one work. Sales for Heaney’s take sure did surge on that one afternoon.

We later disussed it in a seminar, with one hippy bloke claiming he read it in an hour.

It took us much longer as we tend to pore over each sentence. A stance we haven’t changed since 2003 as we like to take in everything from a book we can.

And, well, after Beowulf we went off in a different direction to the choice of Nottingham’s lecturers. Turning to Sartre and Camus in our long and epic quest to becoming the most idiotic website on the internet.

Film Adaptation

There was quite an impressive film adaptation back in 2007 by director Robert Zemeckis. Sir Anthony Hopkinds, Ray Wintstone, Robin Wright, and Angelina Jolie were amongst the cast.

It’s a surprisingly engaging effort, with the special effects (for the time) getting a lot of attention.

It cost $150 million and only recouped $196.4 million, so was something of a failure at the box office.

Some of the changes over the old poem were justified on the basis of Grendel’s unreliable narrator status. And, well, looking back now it’s an engaging CGI romp.

13 comments

  1. Apologies if you’ve already read them, but another couple of cracking sagas are i) Egil’s Saga. He was arguably the Viking age’s ultimate anti-hero, and that’s saying summat. Farmer. Poet. Lunatic hardcase. Spent a lot of time in what is now Northern England, which of course gives him an extra veneer of cool.

    ii) The Saga of Arrow Odd. Rip-roaring tale packed with proper Northern sarcy, piss-takey humour.

    Bonus saga – if you want to make your *cough* older relatives go all misty eyed and say “eeeeeeeh” a lot, just say those magic words “The Saga of Noggin The Nog”…..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My Mum thought I should read Beowulf, way back when, but I actually haven’t done so yet, except in bits. It’s interesting how it’s been translated – Tolkien, I believe, also produced an original translation, which is pretty cool. I have to wonder whether the Anglo Saxon word for ‘aaaargh’ (which I imagine is the sort of thing people might say at the time, being the Dark Ages and all that) is the same as our one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I find it more interesting as a piece of literary history rather than a read. Plus the old English stuff is fascinating. I wonder who wrote it!? That’s why we need a time machine to find out all these engaging enigmas.

      I’m willing to bet the Anglo Saxon is more of a, “Yarrghhh!!” Two exclamation marks. Perhaps this could the topic for your next book?

      Liked by 1 person

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