Prose translation makes Beowulf accessible for casual readers, historians, folklorists. Review by S.K. Slevinski
If you read Beowulf in high school and wished you could understand it better, then Constance Hieatt's prose translation is for you.
Beowulf is an eighth century Anglo-Saxon epic poem, and could be called the first heroic fantasy. The influence of Beowulf in modern fantasy stories is palpable. As a professor of Anglo-Saxon language and literature, Tolkien incorporated many of the themes and folkloric conventions into his work, in turn perpetuating them into modern fantasy. Beowulf opens in king Hrothgar's meade hall where a mysterious monster has been gobbling up his men every night and carrying them away to his lair. They call in Beowulf, a hero of legendary bloodlines, to fight this beast and save Hrothgar's people.
Fans of old fashioned heroic fantasy in the vein of Tolkien will delight in this trip back into folkloric source material. I find this translation to be especially accessible, and it is the translation recommended by my professor of Germanic folklore. Many translations of Beowulf seek to preserve the original poetic structure (Burton Raffel's is a good one if you're looking for a poetic translation). And while such an approach may be helpful to a literature scholar, it's unnecessary for appreciating the story, the historical situation and the folklore. The prose form allows for the clearest translation, rather than the one that best fits the rhythm and meter. Fans of Tolkien-esque fantasy will delight in the exalted bloodline lineages, meade halls full of song and merriment, heroes who carry swords with lineages as legendary their own.
If you have been wanting to give Beowulf a second look (or first, if you have not read it before) and care little for Anglo-Saxon poetics, this translation is a perfect introduction to the roots of heroic fantasy.
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S.K. Slevinski is senior editor for ARWZ Literary Magazine and a long time reader of alternative reality fiction. She is currently a graduate student, specializing in folklore.