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Beowulf

2009 July 6
by Tim V-B

Last month we had two weeks holiday and one major decision was what books to read. I’ve had a desire to read some ‘classics’ and, while browsing the library, I came across a translation of “Beowulf.” This reminded me of a Tim Keller comment about this famous poem, so I picked up the book and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The basic plot is this: Beowulf, the great hero, travels to the Dane’s Kingdom which is troubled by the monster Grendel. Beowulf fights Grendel, then has to fight Grendel’s mother who is a bit ticked off.  He’s a hero, returns home and becomes king, ruling for 50 years. Then a dragon is disturbed and Beowulf dons his sword to remove this evil, which he does, at the cost of his life.

The poem was composed sometime between the middle of the seventh and end of the tenth century of the first millennium. This translation, by the poet Seamus Heaney, became the 1999 Whitbread Book of the Year.  It’s fairly long – some 3000 lines – but a great read.  Heaney has (to my mind at least) done a great job of translating a poem into something that is understandable and still poetic; if you read it, read it out loud (or under your breath) so you pick up the rhythms and alliteration.

The original poet was a Christian and throughout there are references to God being in ultimate control of everyone’s destiny.  I’ve not seen the 2007 film but a quick look at the movie’s site shows it has monkeyed around with the original quite considerably on the dubious premise that, being written down by monks, they probably edited out all the juicy bits.  I say, ignore the film, pick up this book and enjoy!

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