B - Beowulf

"Stories never really end...even if the books like to pretend they do.  Stories always go on.  They don't end on the last page, any more than they begin on the first page."
Cornelia Funke


I am sure I will get mixed reactions when I own (to those who did not already know) that it was the Anglo-Saxon story of Beowulf which gave me the inspiration for AdamantineBeowulf, like The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, The Song of Roland, belongs among a range of old poetic classics that everyone would have liked to have read and feels a certain hesitance to do so.  When you do sit down to read them you often find they were not so daunting as you had first supposed.  Beowulf is no exception.  I confess I, too, was daunted at the outset...until I became swept up in the plot and the characters and the rich, abbreviated style of poetry and dialogue.  I loved it.  I loved it like autumn and bonfires and tea and spice.  It was all of those colours and tastes to me and I just had to, after the last page and the last line and I was left sitting in a hollow shell of sadness and longing, I just had to write something more.

I was glad to know that Rudyard Kipling wrote Puck of Pook's Hill, for, upon closing A Midsummer Night's Dream, Puck was the character I wanted to know more about - and there was more to read!  But there was no more Beowulf when I closed the book, no more to read, though the story went on...so I would have to write it myself.

There was, of course, no more Beowulf.  The understanding of Beowulf may be a little abbreviated itself among those who haven't read the story.  Everyone knows about Grendel and his watery mother and the triumph of the Geats' champion over the Danes' monstrous oppressors.  What gets perhaps far little press (though around this time of year in 2012 people are unwittingly raving about another book heavily inspired by the second half of Beowulf) is the gentle reign of Beowulf, the prosperity, the love of his people, the many conquests that are strung like pearls upon a string of time throughout his life...until the end, when a runaway servant sneaking into a sleeping dragon's lair steals a cup and gets away, only to wake the dragon's self-avenging fire across the land.

Does that sounds familiar now?

As the representative, governor, and champion of his people, Beowulf, having now exchanged a golden beard for one of badger's grey, sets out to slay the dragon.  There is no champion like him, no one else capable of tackling such a foe, and Beowulf is determined to do or die.

And so Beowulf's followers rode, mourning their beloved leader, crying that no better king had ever lived, no prince so mild, no man so open to his people, so deserving of praise.

There is no happy ending.  Old and valiant Beowulf is pressed by the dragon almost beyond bearing.  At the last moment, when he most needs his sworn followers, every man turns and abandons him.  Every man save his young kinsman Wiglaf, who alone runs forward to save his king from destruction.  Together they kill the dragon, but the cost was heavy and high: Beowulf has been dealt a mortal wound.  With the last great trophy, a dragon's head, the Geats' great king passes into legend, breathing out his last in the arms of the one man who loved lord and loyalty over his own life.  It is no happy ending.

But what of that young man?  After I had cried and been angry and cried some more, I wondered, what about that young man?  What about Wiglaf?  Surely such a hero had the beginnings of a splendid story.  He shone like a star on the page but he deserved even more than that.  So I sat down at my computer, opened up a new Word document, and began a new story, a Puck of Pook's Hill for Wiglaf. 

12 ripostes:

  1. Saints preserve us, Jenny! This is the most tantalizing of your posts I think I've ever read. I mean *honestly*...you get me all worked up over Beowulf (which, sadly, I've never read)and then feeling passionate loyalty to Wiglaf and then you tell us that Adamantine was that book and we cannot read it yet! Cross, I am, and yearning for more! ;)

  2. And it was Adamantine. I realy need to read Beowulf. I'm sort of saving it for when I get to the vikings and the Danes in history.

  3. I fear my reaction to your comment was a smile of kill-devil proportions and no sense of regret in sight. :P

  4. You've just raised my "I want to read this book" level by about ten notches - and it was already high. I love fantasy in general - but when it retells/continues/preludes a fairytale/legend/myth ... it just makes it all the better. Unless it's done bad. Then it just makes it all the worse. But I honestly doubt you'll botch it.

  5. And yet there is still balm in Gilead!!!

    Let's explain...so on Thursday I begin Beowulf for schoolwork: which I've been very nervous about, for when I was twelve I arbitrarily began it and made it no farther than the monster in the hall.(While the poet is anonymous, he has yet a talent for vivid description, especially in the realm of blood...) So i wasn't too keen on reading it in full anyways. Additionally, a few weeks ago I was talking to some boys about Beowulf (for they had taken a homeschool class on the poem from their brother-in-law) and they loved it for being SUCH a MAN'S book. Eeps...

    But I'm glad that you like it: and there is yet balm in Gilead. And I guess Tolkien thought it beautiful also: so what is there to fear?

  6. I never had an interest in Beowulf until this moment. Jenny, oh Jenny, you do know how to string us along! Adamantine's charm has just gone from a rosy pink to a bright and flaming red, and only appears all the more enticing. I'm knitting my brows in frustration that I can't read it yet. :P

  7. Jenny. I shall call you a cruel woman and have done with it. "A kill-devil smile" indeed. Humph! ;)

  8. Rachel - I am cruel, and that's the end of it. I take an endless and sharp-edged delight in stringing you out like this, though of course I don't do it on purpose. But though I don't do it on purpose, there is no call for me to not enjoy it. :P

    Rosamund - It is a man's book! But I was brought up on Lew Wallace and Rosemary Sutcliff and (as Elizabeth Rose pointed out) I am accustomed to stories being bright and flaming red. I read Beowulf as part of a literature class and I was the only girl in it, and yet I think I was the soul that loved it and answered to it most. A man's tale, yes, but a good tale: and as I am as much in the habit of writing men as women, I like to read the books full of real, red-blooded men. I can do them better justice that way when I go to write them myself.

    Elizabeth Rose - As for you, how glad I am you picked up on the soul-colours! There is rosy pink, and there is bright and flaming red. You got the change of colours, and I am glad. ^.^

    Kendra - I thank you for the confidence! While I have written it, hopefully, in such a way that you need not have read Beowulf to understand Adamantine, half my intent was to reawaken interest in the Anglo-Saxon story to that it might be better read in my own lifetime.

  9. I would dearly love to read Beowulf now, Jenny! The link between this Anglo-Saxon legend and Adamantine pricks me deeply with intense curiosity and blazing interest so that I truly wonder for how long i can take it before exploding. If I can echo Rachel, you seem to have a delight for cruelty, however unintended! Do you know how heartless you are to us, wonder-wounded hearers? Not fair!

    I heard that Tolkien drew from the legends and myths of the past, with tales such as Beowulf being chief among them (of Beowulf I believe he made a translation of it from Anglo-Saxon into English -correct me if I am wrong here!) so it is no wonder that his works are heavily inspired from the tale of Beowulf! I never knew that the dragon's lair scene from 'The Hobbit' had a great similarity to Beowulf's tale... wow! Also, the slaying of the dragon and all, this greatly reminds me of Tolkien's 'Children of Hurin'... (have you read that book? 'Tis quite tragic but beautiful nonetheless in its despair.).

    I think this is a beautiful idea to continue on Wiglaf's tale in Adamantine... I begin to love this young man, though I have just met him thanks to you, for the loyalty and courage he bears.
    Oh, I knew I'd enjoy this Letter Series... now onto letter C, right?

    P.S. by the way, Jenny, do you plan on watching (and hopefully enjoying) 'The Hobbit' movies coming out soon? I personally am really looking forward to them, even if I know they may expand from the book a bit... I seem to have two lenses when watching movie adaptions (book lens, movie lens) and I like to look at both and enjoy them equally without sullying one or the other...

  10. Joy - On to letter C! Presently. I don't want to run through the alphabet too quickly.

    I am eagerly looking forward to the first installment of "The Hobbit" coming out this Christmas. And I am glad to find something else who has "two lenses," as it were. I had not read the trilogy until right inside the time I was watching the films; by and large, I found, the two did not greatly collide with each other in my imagination. I still love the books best, for even Peter Jackson did not quite capture the old richness of Tolkien's style, but that is simply another example of the books tending to best the movies. That is nothing new. Still, Martin Freeman looks to be a most amusing Bilbo, and The Hobbit is just such a gloriously ridiculous, serious, unexpected-hero kind of story! ^.^

    Oh, The Children of Hurin. I have a bookmark in it, but I haven't finished it. I picked it up one day when I was stuck at home and my internet had crashed and I could think of nothing else to do. Daddy wondered that, with such previous provocation, I should willingly read a book that I knew would further wrench my emotions. I really could not answer him... But then the internet came back up and it has since been...perhaps over a year since that day and I just haven't had the courage to force myself back into those circumstances. So instead, you know, I read The Riddle-Master of Hed, and have someone else stomp on my heart and tear it out... We have this bizarre affinity for having people crush us to bits with their words.

  11. My oh my, Jenny how you torture my curious soul! :P Lizzy told me about this post yesterday on the way to dance (horrible time, of course, as I knew I wouldn't be home 'till near 10, and wouldn't get a chance to read it between showering and eating dinner.)

    So I never knew more than the name "Beowulf". It never interested me much, either. But not you have lit the flame! Methinks I should read Beowulf while I wait for Adamantine, so I can understand the backstory. :)

  12. I am very found of your characters you know... well of course you do after all I had raved about how I loved them to you. And I am sorry if I ever over did it. I recall you said one time, "it's okay, I like for people to like my characters too."

    I think I shall always be grateful for your encouragement to read Beowulf. The whole thing. I had been wavering towards it but then came a letter (I can't recall if I was sick that day or not. I know one of yours surely did and cheered me immensely)and you had the most beautiful and sad poem about Beowulf and Wiglaf. I recall the impassioned words describing Wiglaf and his last stand and valiant beowulf. And I knew if "an old classic" could case such beautiful words to flow to cause such a beautiful, evocative poem; I would have to read it myself. It did take me a bit to read, but the ending with the dragon and beowulf was just as good as you had described. Thank you so much for your encouragement.

    I am sorely tried as I try to wait the day when I may read adamantine. ;P