Monday, April 9, 2012

Beowulf: Poetry and Graphic Novels

Book Reviews

Beowulf by Seamus Heaney.
Beowulf, Monster Slayer by Paul D. Storrie and Ron Randall (graphic novel).
Beowulf, Graphic Novel by Gareth Hinds.

I've been on a small mission for the last several years.

I want to read literature classics that I didn't get to read in college or high school. I've felt like I've been missing out on something all the the liberal arts majors got. And I did miss out. I was too busy doing my math and sciences.

But now I'm filling in the gaps. I was thrilled when I recently read a book with a reference to Hester Prynne. I now know who she is!

This is actually working!

So, reading Beowulf is just one more step in my self-education of literature classics.


This is the translated version of the original Old English poetry.

We are presented with our hero, Beowulf, as he ventures out to save a neighboring land from a monster's vicious attacks. He then further endears himself to these neighbors as he defeats a second threat. He returns home, rules his land for many, many years, and then faces his final battle against a dragon.

I won't spoil the ending for you. You'll have to read it for yourself.

It was interesting to see the Old English on the left facing page, with the modern English translation on the right facing page throughout the book. I guess I never realized how different Old English is from our modern language.

I knew it was different. My daughter even confirmed it from her teacher. He, apparently, can speak Old English off the top of his head, as well as read it.

Good for him. I'm glad he is the one teaching this stuff to my daughter.

I don't know a stitch of Old English, and I'm not particularly inclined to learn now. I'm not an English or Old English major.

I enjoyed reading the poetry here. The events are graphic, but the translation is not. I very much appreciate that. If the graphic details are not provided to me explicitly, my brain is quite happy to gloss over details that might be implied. Violence is not my thing. I think my brain looks for ways to not acknowledge it more than it has to.

The story here is rather brief in the descriptions of the three heroic battles. This is fine with me. I don't need length there. In between the battles, we get a bit of backstory and background history lesson of the area and some of its peoples. I'm certainly not familiar with any of this, but it does add some pacing to spare us from non-stop action sequences.

Pacing is good.

This version came with a foreword. I have mixed feelings on forewords. Some are longer than the actual story. I don't like those. Some are insightful and informative. I like those sometimes.

This foreword was of the latter type. It is worth reading. I had started it, felt sidelined by it, and then started reading the poetry. Shortly thereafter, I stopped reading the poetry and went back to finish the foreword. I'm glad I did. If you have this version available, I recommend reading the entire foreword.

Beowulf, Monster Slayer - graphic novel

This graphic novel was a good accompaniment to the poetry translation. The graphics were bright and very like color comic books.

The depictions of the monsters and figures were very well done. I would even recommend this version for young readers.

And a good thing, too, since my son helped himself to this version in his school library. He read it without me even knowing. He told me he had read it when I brought this copy home from the public library.

The words selected for this graphic novel run fairly true to the above poetry version. I liked this, since I felt like I was still reading the same story.

I enjoyed having this version at hand while reading the poetry. This is a nice way to visualize the story.

Beowulf - graphic novel

This graphic novel version of Beowulf is dark, both figuratively and visually.

The graphics are dark in the chosen colors. The settings are dark. The actions are dark. Everything about this book is dark.

They are also just too graphic. As in the violence. The portrayal of the violence is much more than I need to see, more than I want to see, and more than I want a child of mine to see.

I don't recommend this version for young readers.

The written prose is more verbose than the poetry version in the parts that are presented. Unfortunately, the parts that are written are few and far between, not quite telling the whole story.

What is written is almost soliloquy in style, except that we don't have much dialogue in this story. What happens between these passages is depicted in graphic form only.

I would prefer to have descriptions of what happens between the longer passages.

I have read a few other graphic novels by Gareth Hinds. I have liked them. This one, not so much. Too graphic this time.

I strongly recommend the previous graphic novel version. For all readers.

But with or without a graphic novel to accompany the poetry, I do recommend spending the time to read this classic saga.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a huge fan of Beowulf, especially Seamus Heaney's translation - I actually taught an 12 hour course through my local university's seniors centre on it! If you're looking for a good counterpart, and a modern take on Grendel, I recommend by John Gardner. He portrays Grendel in a very sympathetic light, and puts a very interesting spin on the story.


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