Book Review: Beowulf (translated by Seamus Heaney)

I read this aloud to my wife, and we both loved it. We love the story and we love the richness of the verses.

This is our first epic poem.

A sketch of the plot

The hero of this tale is Beowulf, a Geat warrior who comes to the aid of Hrothgar, King of the Danes. The Danes are being terrorized by a hellish monster called Grendel. No one could stop him for he is too strong and terrifying. Beowulf hears of the king’s distress and enlists a group of men to help him in his mission. Beowulf and his company reach the halls of Heorot where Hrothgar lives and offers his services to him. Hrothgar is elated and welcomes Beowulf. Then, after a great feast and when everyone is asleep, Beowulf waits for Grendel in the hall. Grendel arrives and finally meets his match. Actually, Beowulf is more than his match, for he is much stronger. Beowulf rips Grendel’s arm from his shoulder (not a pretty picture, and there are many other gory scenes in this story), and the monster whimpers and scrambles away, barely alive.

Everyone in Heorot rejoices, and the King is overjoyed. He praises Beowulf and rewards him with treasures. But this celebration is short-lived, for the monster has a mother, and boy is she pissed at Beowulf for hurting (and eventually killing) her son (sorry for the crude description). So she appears in Heorot the following night and terrorizes the Danes once again. But this time, Beowulf was away. The king loses a much-valued friend and councilor and they all mourn. Beowulf is angered and once again vows to avenge the death of that man. He goes to the lair of Grendel’s mother deep under a lake, and meets her there. With great struggle, he slays her, along with her minions, and Heorot is finally freed from the scourge of monsters. Hrothgar and the Danes lavishes praise, honor, and gifts to the hero, and he returns to Geatland. Hrothgar also gives Beowulf many sage advice.

In Geatland, Beowulf is welcomed and honored by his own king, and he is again praised and rewarded for his courage and honor. He eventually is made king, after the death of Hygelac and his son, and he rules Geatland for 50 years.

Beowulf’s last challenge is a great dragon, and here he lost his life, but not without slaying the dragon first. There’s a similarity with this part of the story with Tolkien’s The Hobbit. In the Hobbit, a great dragon lives in the heart of a great mountain guarding a great treasure. In Beowulf, there is also a great dragon who lives under the earth who guards a great treasure.

Personal thoughts

We love this tale for the richness of the verses and for the virtues of the main character. Beowulf embodies the values of heroism, courage, bravery, honor, selflessness, and self-sacrifice. That is something all of us, especially men, should emulate.

We also love it that the story makes many references to God. The story-teller, the hero, and the other characters often recognize the power and guidance of an Almighty.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Date read: January 9-13, 2012


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