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Book Review: Beowulf by Anonymous/Unknown

Man covered in chainmail.  Summary:
This classic, epic poem tells the story of the life of Beowulf, a Geat warrior.  In his youth, Beowulf assists the Danes who are being terrorized by a monster named Grendel.  He defeats Grendel and Grendel’s mother single-handedly in hand to hand combat.  When the Geatish king dies, Beowulf acts as guardian of the kingdom while the prince grows up.  All is well until a dragon starts to terrorize the land.

Review:
Having read The Odyssey, The Iliad, and The Aeneid and liking them all quite well (in spite of the fact that The Aeneid is a Roman rip-off of the Greek epics) I was expecting something somewhat different from Beowulf than what I got.  Although the adventures in these epics generally center around one or two characters, they are also the tales of the history of an entire people.  Since Beowulf conducts pretty much all of his battles on his own, I don’t really get that vibe from Beowulf.  It also is odd to me that these people seem to have a real talent for pissing off monsters buried deep in the Earth.  Whereas the other epic poems are about battles between nations and the impact that has on individuals, this is really just about some guy who goes around killing monsters that people have managed to royally piss off.  It’s kind of like reading a videogame in which every level consists of one monstrous boss.

Maybe this whole difference in tone is due to the fact that this pagan history is being told by a Christian narrator, whereas the other epics are told by pagan narrators.  There’s definitely a vibe of “oh those silly old pagans” to Beowulf, which makes it rather hard to relate to the characters.

On the other hand, just as in the other classic, epic poems, the language is beautiful.  Since I listened to this as an audiobook, I got to really listen to it.  Hearing epic poetry read aloud is almost always better than reading it, as the oral tradition is where they came from.  Bloody scenes manage to come across as exquisite due purely to the language being used.

If you enjoy epic poetry, you’ll definitely enjoy Beowulf.  However, if you’re new to epic poems, I’d recommend you start with The Odyssey instead.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Librivox recording via Audiobooks app for the iTouch

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  1. March 11, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Ah great review, I’ve never listened or read any epic poetry. Always had my eye on Beowulf due only to the fact that it inspired J R R Tolkien so much. I should give all types of poetry more of a go really, haven’t read any since school.

    • March 12, 2010 at 10:40 am

      Thank you, Jessica! It was my first book blog review of poetry, so it was a bit different to write.
      How did you manage to get through school without reading any epic poetry? That’s pretty nigh on impossible over here, lol.

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