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Beowulf Mass Market Paperback – Special Edition, 1 September 2005
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|Mass Market Paperback, Special Edition, 1 September 2005||
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- Publisher : Simon & Schuster; Enriched Classic edition (1 September 2005)
- Language : English
- Mass Market Paperback : 176 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1416500375
- ISBN-13 : 978-1416500377
- Dimensions : 10.64 x 1.27 x 17.15 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 647,163 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Top review from Australia
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It seems like an appropriate title for whoever originally wrote the classic story of "Beowulf" -- a full-blooded, rich epic poem about a young hero who is called upon to slay various monsters. That's a tale old as time, but the beauty of this is in the singsong rhythm, the beautiful language and the glimpses of ancient Anglo-Saxon culture.
A creature named Grendel is attacking the beautiful mead-hall of Heorot, sneaking in at night to carry off and/or kill innocent people. King Hrothgar is powerless to stop the monster. But then Beowulf, an already-legendary hero from Geatland, arrives at Heorot specifically to kill Grendel -- and using only his superhuman strength, he is able to arm-wrestle Grendel to death. Not joking.
But that isn't the end of his troubles. Grendel's equally grotesque mother is enraged by her child's death, and attacks Heorot to lure Beowulf out. This time, he'll be fighting on HER turf, and the legendary hero might not survive. And as the years go by, he's faced with a terrible new enemy, one that threatens his homeland and everyone in it...
"Beowulf" is revered as one of the oldest works of Anglo-Saxon literature, and it deserves the reverance. But the poem is a lot more than just an old story -- it's a gripping adventure story, and it's also a glimpse of a culture that was pretty much stamped out with the Norman invasion. It's a culture of boasting, blood, honor, friendship and "ring-giving," where ancient pagan cultures are enmeshed in new Christian beliefs.
It's also an outrageously awesome adventure, with some brilliant fight scenes -- lots of swords, blood and sometimes wonderfully graphic violence. Just look at the awesome scene where Beowulf rips off Grendel's arm, then sticks it on the wall as a trophy. You can practically hear the early-medieval mead-halls erupting with applause whenever that happens.
But it also has some truly beautiful moments, such as the final conversation between Beowulf and Wiglaf. And there are some powerful speeches, such as Hrothgar lecturing Beowulf on what it takes to be a "good king," and the qualities of a great leader.
It also has some truly, amazingly beautiful language woven into the story. It takes a little while to get past the rhythms of epic poetry and the very Anglo-Saxon words and phrases ("hoard-seat of heroes," "giver of rings"), but there is some truly beautiful alliterative wordcraft ("Wan to the welkin, when the wind is stirring/The weathers unpleasing, till the air groweth gloomy,/To thee only can I look for assistance/And the heavens lower...").
Beowulf himself is not the perfect superman that you would initially think -- he's rather arrogant and immature at the beginning, despite his great strength and leadership skills. It's only through his fight with Grendel's mother that he realizes that even he is not invulnerable, and learns the humility to be a good monarch himself.
As for this translation by John Lesslie Hall, it's not the best I've read -- but it's still an excellent translation. He successfully captures the alliteration and singsong beauty of the poem, but he loses a bit of the atmospheric imagery.
"Beowulf" is a story of timeless power and beauty, while also giving us a glimpse into a long-gone -- but still influential -- world of wildness, monsters and magic.
Top reviews from other countries
This is a fascinating read but can be quite difficult to understand parts of it due to how language has changed over the years. Regardless, it’s still an extremely interesting and intriguing piece of history that is worth investigation.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 6 July 2020
But recently I realised that Alexander's 1973 introduction is old-fashioned beyond hope of salvation, and I have a couple of bilingual texts, so I ditched him.
This edition has anglo-saxon text on one page and a glossary facing it. I like it, as academic editions of Beowulf, e.g. Klaeber, can be too bulky for reading for pleasure or taking on holiday, and Penguin have to be admired for publishing it at all. But the text unconvincingly ignores some of Klaeber's amendments; the glossary is a bit too sparse - it gives a single meaning for each word - I'd prefer a choice, as there is sometimes room for doubt - it doesn't provide any accidental or syntactical information, which is a pity; and it is frankly rubbish in places - e.g. 1381, gestreon is glossed as "terror" when it means "treasure"! And of course it's a paperback, and mine is already falling apart, so I have a second and third copy for backup.
Nearly forgot - the introduction is better than the 1973 one!
There is still room in the world for an Old English monolingual reader's text, hardback, sewn spine: that would be doing this poem justice.
What you get is the text plus substantial explanatory footnotes which can be accessed easily from the text. What you don't get is any introduction or other 'briefing' material. I would have liked a glossary. a list of who's who and a prose summary of the plot to make things easier to follow. Some of these are available in other editions, including, for the brave, the Old English original text, which are available free from Project Gutenberg.
I must say that like one of the earlier reviewers I found this a super read. You just have to accept the strangeness and let yourself go into the world of chieftains, their halls and marauding monsters. This is over a thousand years old but one of the great poems of the British poetic tradition.