Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Book Recommendations - Beowulf

by Unknown
Translated by Seamus Heaney

Beowulf, son Echtheow, spoke:
"Wise sir, do not grieve. It is always better
To avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning
For every one of us, living in this world
Means waiting for our end. Let whoever can
Win glory before his death. When a warrior is gone,
That will be his best and only bulwark.
(lines 1384-1389)

First of all, I'd like to say that the previous book recommendations... however funny and interesting and involved those series are, they are basically fantasy fluff.
This is a really hard, deep book to read, and yes, I would recommend it. But it's one of the oldest manuscripts, and it was originally in Old English, a dead language. That means people can translate it and read it, but no one really speaks it any more to communicate. 

This book, translated by Seamus Heaney, is a bilingual edition - on the left hand side you have the Old English, on the right hand pages you have the modern English. It's really fascinating, seeing the comparisons between the languages. For instance, the equivalent of daughter is, if memory serves, dochter. See? And the introduction at the beginning is interesting too, talking about the history of Beowulf, what translating it meant, and how poetic Beowulf really is. 

Now, since this is such an old book, dated somewhere between the 8th and 11th century, it's not a terribly easy read, not at all, but in my opinion, if you can get through it, it is worth it. And if you've read Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit, or The Inheritance Cycle, then you can really see the influence this story had on them. While he was still alive, J. R. R. Tolkien notably presented a lecture on Beowulf, and mentioned how it was among his most valued sources. And then there's Hrothgar, a main character in Beowulf, the one Christopher Paolini's dwarf king was named after.

When I first opened up Beowulf to read it, I saw the first lines:

So. the Spear-Danes in days gone by
And the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.

And I just thought, "Wow. This is gonna be good."
And it was. A bit hard to get through, but still, I don't think I'll look back and think, "Oh, what a waste of time that was. Beowulf was useless. I could have done something else with my time." Which would be my opinion with some books.

There's my opinion on the book. Now a little bit about it. 

Beowulf is mainly a story about a hero of the Geats in Scandinavia. He hears about the plight of King Hrothgar, whose mead-hall is under attack by the monster Grendel. Beowulf takes several of his best men and sails to meet Hrothgar, pledging to defeat the monster or die trying. Hrothgar welcomes him into his hall and Beowulf makes ready to battle Grendel. 

I am not too great at synopses, am I?

In any case, I give it...
I'll say four stars. It was purty, purty good. Not the epic-est read-this-now-everybody-on-the-whole-world book, but worthwhile, I think, quite worthwhile.

Update: Oh, I forgot to mention. Yes, this was definitely written from a Christian viewpoint, for those of you who are concerned. But also I warn you, this gets a bit graphic in its descriptions, talking a little bit about bursting muscles and severed heads and bloody butchered corpses (Beowulf's words, not mine), so if you have a bit of a delicate constitution, you may not care to read it.

So the Geat People, his hearth companions,
Sorrowed for the lord who had been laid low,
They said that of all the kings upon the earth
He was the man most gracious and fair-minded,
Kindest to his people and keenest to win fame.
(closing lines 3178-3183) 

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