REVIEWS by SULLYDOG
Translated by Seamus Heaney
Yes, that Beowulf--the one your high school English teacher forced you to read while you tried to keep your face awake.
Yes, this is an sf e-zine, not a stodgy journal of Anglo-Saxon scholarship.
What do you want? Beowulf's got it all: warrior-princes, mighty kings, gleaming longboats, misty moors, flashing swords, simmering blood feuds, savage dragons, kingdoms rising and falling, man-eating monsters, and rousing clashes between clear-cut Good and unmistakable Evil. It may be old, but make no mistake: this is good stuff.
Hrothgar, King of the Danes, should be a happy man. His realm is at peace with its neighbors, rich in gold, and well-bestowed with mighty warriors. But the land of the Danes is beset by a horrible curse: Grendel. In the night this foul monster comes to carry away the prime of Danish manhood, leaving only gore and chaos to mark his passing through Hrothgar's mead hall. An air of defeat has begun to settle over the Danes, and Hrothgar is beginning to look like an old man.
Now Beowulf, a mighty prince from a Swedish tribe known as the Geats, comes across the sea in Hrothgar's defense. Alone, and with his bare hands, he stands against the unspeakable evil of Grendel. You know what happens next. Good must always overcome evil, after all. But it's not as simple as that. In his triumph, Beowulf plants the seeds of his own destruction and the ruin of Geatish people.
I get goosebumps just writing about it. It's all here, everything we love about High Fantasy, a story that plugs right in to the collective unconscious. When Tolkien rendered Middle Earth, this was his source code.
The entire book is a delight, from the handsome design to the erudite but lighthearted foreword to the content and layout. Somebody knew exactly what they were doing when they tapped Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney to give us this translation, the newly definitive translation, of Beowulf. I read this classic poem in high school too, you know, and while the images and the story fired my imagination, I have to concede that the language was too stiff and impenetrable to make the experience as enjoyable as it should have been. But Heaney's translation restores the music to Beowulf. Do yourself a favor: read it as poetry, whispering it to yourself or reading it aloud, allowing the lyric quality of the language to seep into your spirit and resonate in your bones. Let your eye wander, occasionally, to the facing page, to drink the strange beauty of the original Anglo-Saxon verse and remind you that, by reading this great work of heroic fantasy, you are connecting with the very taproot of English language and literature.