Sunday, February 22, 2009

Where Was This Version of Beowulf When I Needed It?

Oh, Grendel! How you and your mother tortured me so when I was made to read of the torment you brought on King Hrothgar's people and the heroism of a warrior named Beowulf who killed you both dead, and then slayed a dragon to boot!

This epic poem was a monster of a read for me back in 1997, when I read it as part of my English 3 curriculum, and I hated pretty much every minute of it. It wasn't that the story itself wasn't engaging, but rather that the see through pages, tiny font, and inaccessible language of my Norton's Anthology made the process of reading it somewhat of an epic in itself. I was not a fan.

Today's students are fortunate to have not only the powers of Wikipedia and Hollywood to help them understand what's going on, but also Gareth Hinds' graphic interpretation (self-published in 1999 and then through Candlewick in 2007) of Beowulf to draw them into the story without the structure or language of the story putting students off from the get-go. There aren't many words at all, but the pictures tell the story and bring you in on the action in a way that I think plain text just can't do alone.

The illustrations: absorbing. dark. gory.

The story: awesome. exciting. heroic.*

As a certified teacher, lover of learning and stickler for always going back to the original source I don't recommend passing over the "real thing", but using other interpretations and media formats as an entry point or hook to get students, or even casual Beowulf readers (I'm sure there must be truckloads of these people, right?) turned onto the story ain't such a bad idea.

* Who knew?


  1. I love this version of Beowulf! Some stories are really just meant for a graphic novel interpretation.

  2. For me beowulf is a balm for the are planetariums.