Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Beowulf

This is my first selection for the Year of Reading Dangerously challenge. I know I probably had to read this, or a portion of it, at some point during my time in school. However, I really don't remember reading it. I have always felt like I was not properly educated because I couldn't really say for sure if I'd read it or not. So, that's why I chose this one for this particular challenge.

Like everyone, I already knew the gist of the story -- great warrior king faces overwhelming odds numerous times and rules his country justly for many years until he is finally killed as an old man doing battle with a dragon that no other warrior would fight.

I read the 2001 Seamus Heany bilingual edition. I was actually pleasantly surprised. I really liked it and read it quickly. I guess it has just gotten a bad rap over the years like other classic works forced on students in school. But, this is a really well-written epic poem. Of course, I was reading the translation. The Old English on the other side of the page might as well have been Greek.

I particularly liked the introduction by Heaney in which he describes several possible ways of approaching Beowulf. The first he says is to simply look at it as "three agnons in the hero's life..." These are the three major battles he fights -- first against Grendel, then Grendel's mother, and finally the dragon. Another way to look at the epic, is to consider it the story of three groups of people and how their lives were intertwined through the character of Beowulf. The third way to approach the poem is to look at it as a study of the honor-bound warrior culture, which is also tinted with Christian references.

I really thought I would have a hard time understanding any of this, but again, I was pleasantly surprised. I had no trouble understanding the story. The only thing that was a little difficult was the pronunciation of the names and keeping all the lineages straight in my head. So, if like me, you haven't read it or don't remember reading it. Go ahead, it's not that scary or dangerous after all.

11 comments:

Nymeth said...

I can't believe I haven't read this yet! My library has this translation, so I'll get to it soon.

Lisa said...

nymeth, I'm so glad I finally read it. I've always thought it would be a chore to slog through it, but it was really good!

Rebecca Reid said...

I've heard so many great things about that particular translation! I think I'm going to try to read it in the next few months. Sounds great!

Lisa said...

Rebecca, since this is the only translation that I have read, I can't really compare it to others. For me, this translation is very readable.

Andi said...

I think I've had to read Beowulf something like three or four times for various classes (high school lit, college survey, mythology, etc.). It's really a great book even though I got sick of it in there somewhere. Glad you enjoyed it! I hear the Heany version is by far the best.

JoAnn said...

Beowulf has always seemed dangerous to me! Glad to hear there is a translation that makes it more approachable. I'm still thinking about joining this challenge...do you know if you have to select all 12 books ahead of time?

Literary Feline said...

I finally got around to seeing the movie this past year. I read Beowulf in high school many years ago and I remember liking it quite a bit at the time. I am glad you enjoyed reading it, Lisa. I may have to go back and reread it one day.

Lisa said...

andi, I know I probably had to have read it in high school, but I just don't remember it. I probably wouldn't have liked it back then anyway.

joann, "approachable" that's the word I was looking for when I was doing my review. It is definitely approachable and not dangerous at all. No, I don't think you have to choose all 12 at one time. I haven't chosen all of mine yet. Do join, this is the one challenge that I was semi-successful with last year.

literary feline, I forgot about the movie that came out a while back. I'll have to rent it and see how it compares to the book. Thanks for the reminder.

Dorothy W. said...

I think it's so much easier to get works like Beowulf when one is not a teenager! I'm not saying it shouldn't be assigned in school (I read it first freshman year in college), but it's so much easier to enjoy later. I have too many books in the category "not entirely sure I read it" or "read it but forgot completely" -- I should go back and re-read some of those.

Lisa said...

dorothy, I agree completely. I think I saw a discussion some time back about books you think you've read but hadn't actually read. There are other books that I'm so familiar with that I think I've read them, but I can't swear to it -- Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath are two examples. I guess I need to go read them and make sure.

Rebecca Reid said...

Hi Lisa,

May I include a link to this review in the upcoming really old classics (pre-1600s)blog carnival?

Please let me know,

Rebecca at rebeccareid dot com