Translated by Seamus Heaney
215 pages
First sentence:"So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness."

Beowulf is the ancient tale of the terrorizing of the Danes by Grendel, the heinous beast, and the hero, Beowulf, who travels in defense of the Dane kingdom. This translation is poetic yet masculine to the core. I read along to the sound-recording read by the author, which was a pleasure. Mr. Heaney's accent was certainly a plus. But I warn those who may try to listen while they read, this book-on-tape is comprised "unabridged sections" of the original. That means that every so often a sentence or 2 are skipped. And several times a page or 2(or 3) are completely removed. I had to stop the tape and read these to be able to find where the story had jumped to. Most of the time the section skipped over was reflective of past battles and didn't have anything to do with the storyline.

I was familiar with the story already but had never read the entire book, which is not long or difficult at all. Though the book is over 200 pages, all the left-hand pages are written in Old English while the right-hand pages are in Modern English; so you're actually reading only about 100 pages, broken down in poetic stanzas. The language is full of emotion. The characters, while we would consider them arrogant and boastful, for it's original time period they would appear courageous and noble, or cowardly and spiteful, depending on the individual.

I enjoyed my reading time. It is clear why this translation won the Whitbread Award. The author is also the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1995. I have to agree with this assessment:
"for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles
and the living past."

I read this in preparation for 9th grade Lit. in the fall. The story is violent and a bit graphic but any older child who loves adventure will listen to this story with pleasure. If they can tolerate the Lord of the Rings then this one will be no trouble. Just don't try to pronounce the names.


    I love seeing such positive reviews of the classics, and I loved your saying folks who like LOTR will do fine with this. It is full of adventure and emotion, as you say.

    Great review, Petunia. I am also familiar with the story, but have never read the whole thing. Looks like this is the translation to pick up.

    Thanks for sharing this review. I'll be studying Beowulf (this version) with my kids this coming school year in Omnibus II.

    On July 13, 2007 at 8:57 AM Anonymous said...

    So glad you really enjoyed it! I loved this version; I've read another version but this is infinitely the better, the characters seem that much more alive, and the action more exciting.

    This was one of my all-time favorite classics. While I haven't read this particular version of it (its been, literally, decades since I've read it), your review makes me want to give it a fresh read.

    I love this version of Beowulf so much. Heaney's translation (and his voice) are perfect.

    I have read Beowulf in other translations as well, and Heaney's takes it to a whole other level. He really brings the actions alive!
    Great review!