I told you guys in this post that I was reading a couple of new books; and because I thought I’d tell you all about them–mostly because I need more in my “Book Reviews” tag than this, awesome as that book is.
I am starting with “Beowulf”, translated by J.R.R. Tolkien; who is the author of some of my absolute favorite books!
“Beowulf” is a story that was written in Old English, and has been translated by many people. It was while I was reading about the Battle of Pelennor Fields in “The Return of the King” that I suddenly thought I want to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s version of “Beowulf”!
(Mama read a picture book version of it to us three “bigs” a long time ago, and I re-read it pretty recently and expressed my interest in reading a longer version. I wanted to read the original before I found out it was not written in English–well, the English I know! 🙂 )
Well, if any of you who have read “The Lord of the Rings” or “The Hobbit” and are interested in reading this; I certainly won’t stop you, but be forewarned: it’s as bad as Shakespeare! It was interesting, and I am glad I read it, but I was daunted at first! Honestly, it was interesting until the action got over and the characters started telling each other stories about people I did not know (or care) much about. I did get “into” it though, and I actually have a favorite character–which I do not usually when I read Shakespeare plays, as it is harder to grasp how people talk to others. I would probably recommend reading an abridged version first, like I did–I also did this with “Ivanhoe” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.
If there was a main character in this book, it was (understandably) Beowulf. I think of the book in three parts, though you could say it was more like two: Beowulf is incredibly strong, and there are three monsters that he kills over the course of the book–two ogres and one dragon. I usually think of it as the three creatures he fought with; but the ogres were in the same place, so you could also think of it as 1) the fight with Grendel and his mother and then 2) fight with the dragon–or you could just think of it as a good book and not over-analyze anything (which is what I do best–have you noticed?) 🙂
Grendel is the first ogre, who (apparently) was descended from Cain, the first murderer. I have NO idea what my opinion on that spiritual aspect is. I might go into that more later. We will see.
The book the story–there was a lot at the beginning that I considered unnecessary (though I’m not usually on the eliminate-needless-words train)– the story starts with King Hrothgar (please do not ask me how to pronounce any of the names–I have NO idea!) and his people being attacked by Grendel who came to the hall called Heorot at night (never during the day) and carried off people to… eat. Sorry, it’s fierce.
Beowulf gets news of the monster, and sails to Hrothgar’s country and offers to fight Grendel. The problem with fighting the ogre is that he has the ability to cast spells over men’s weapons, so they cannot hurt him. Beowulf is unaffected by these spells, as his greatest weapon is the simple strength of his hands.
He stays in Heorot over night and kills Grendel (read the book if you want details, I am not giving everything away!), and then faces the task of Grendel’s vengeful mother.
Beowulf’s last battle takes place years later, after he has returned to his own country. He becomes the ruler of that land, before the dragon comes.
Something that I noticed reading this longer version, which I never thought of before (though it shouldn’t have surprised me) was how much the dragon sequence resembles that in “The Hobbit”… perhaps it served as inspiration!
But seriously, in both of the dragon steals this crazy amount of gold from someone, hides underground with it, hunkers down and sleeps on it for years. Some innocent, unrelated person stumbles in and steals a golden cup (yes, it’s even a cup in both stories) and takes it to his master/leader. Granted, in “The Hobbit” Bilbo was on a mission to steal treasure, even calling himself a “burglar”; while the poor man in “Beowulf” simply blundered in and took something to pay off his debts. In Bilbo’s defense (because I’m biased 🙂 ) he was not in debt (the dragon was, if anyone), he was just doing what he was told, and he knew those whom the dragon had stolen from. These quotes also reminded me of each other:
Treasure in the ground it is ever his wont to seize, and there wise with many years he guards the heathen gold–no whit doth it profit him ( 79).
Thieves! Fire! Murder! Such a thing had not happened since first he came to the Mountain! His rage passes description–the sort of rage that is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but have never before used or wanted (186).
“Sellic Spell” was also included in my hard-cover edition, which is something J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, and described:
It is only to a limited extent an attempt to reconstruct the Anglo-Saxon that lies behind the folk-tale element in “Beowulf” (355).
And the character Unfriend/Unpeace in it totally reminded me of Wormtongue from “The Lord of the Rings”–though he had a happier ending! And Heorot reminded me of Edoras (also from “The Lord of the Rings”).
I really enjoyed reading this, though it went a little slow sometimes! It was also not as long as it looked at first, because the inch-thick book was mostly introductions and commentaries.
My favorite character is Hrothgar, who is generous and humble. I also liked Beowulf; though he was very honest about everything, including his accomplishments, which (his accomplishments being impressive) made it sound a little like he was bragging. I do not think that was his intention though.
…the light of his eyes lit the hall from floor to ceiling like scarlet lightning. ‘Revenge! …I kill where I wish and none dare resist. I laid low the warriors of old and their like is not in the world today. Then I was but young and tender. Now I am old and strong, strong, strong, Thief in the Shadows!’ he gloated (193).