Beowulf

This weekend I stayed at my in-laws house, she is an avid reader and high school teacher and so she has tons of classic and good books around her house. At a moment when I needed a book, I came across a classic:  Beowulf!

Now, I have always been interested and like the story, but never really felt it ‘lived up to’ the hype about how awesome the story was. After the movie came out, my interest in the story was renewed somewhat and I went about the internet and scored a text version and yet again attempted to read the tale….and once again was left with zero appreciation. My comment when finishing the story was typically a ‘meh’. Not sure why, but this story just never clicked with me.

Today would be different.

I should note that this was a modern translation by Ian Serraillier and I seriously think that has something to do with me actually enjoy…nah, loving the story this time! I took a few  minutes and started rereading the book again. Turning to the final battle with the aging Beowulf against the dragon, I started to read it out loud while I sat alone.

I have always known Beowulf was originally a verbal medium story, meaning it was told back in the days of old via speech, rather than reading. So as I sat there on the porcelain throne, I reached over and turned on the fan, more to prevent anyone from hearing me than saving the spread of any odor. 😉 I began to read aloud, and doing my best impression of an audio book as I could, adding flavor to the text as I read it.

Surprisingly,  this was very easy and the story flowed perfectly. I made nearly no errors as I read the text and I have to say, I actually impressed myself with the reading. More importantly, however, the tale began to take on a real personality and depth as I read it. In speaking the tale out loud it seemed to come alive and I began to wonder if THIS was the way this tale is supposed to be enjoyed.

Here is a small passage, take a moment and read it out loud, I think you will be surprised how awesome it sounds when spoken.

Then Wiglaf, as love for his lord
Flashed into rage, unshielded sprang at the beast.
Into that fiery furnace he thrust his sword,
With scorched fingers drove it under the scales,
Home to the hilt. And the dragon fell back, his breathing
Laboured, the fire-puffs ponderous and slow.

In the few minutes I took to read through the book, I managed to cover the entire final portion of the book and I thoroughly enjoyed every single page. A new appreciation came to me for the book, so much so, that I am going to purchase this version of the tale for myself so that I can enjoy it further down the road.

The moral of the story: The next time you see Beowulf, pick it up, go somewhere alone and take a stab at reading the tale out loud and see for yourself how this tale was originally supposed to be enjoyed! I am sure you will gain a new appreciation (or perhaps just gain AN appreciation) for one of the oldest tales of all time!

For a taste of this translation:
http://www.beowulftranslations.net/serr.shtml

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2 thoughts on “Beowulf

  1. So many awesome stories are ruined by half-assed translations. I particularly hate the translations that obscure the literal meaning in order to rhyme in English. Those suck. Cool that you found a good one.

  2. I really enjoyed this one and it is just modern enough that we can read it easily, and yet still retains enough of an ancient structure that it feels old. The author did a great job on this one!

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