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Beowulf
Beowulf
Come at me troll

Publication

1961

Length

Novella

Audience

Children

Illustrations

Charles Keeping

Honours

ALA Notable Book, 1962

Beowulf is a retelling for children of the Anglo-Saxon poem, published in 1961 by The Bodley Head with illustrations by Charles Keeping. It is sometimes reprinted under the title Beowulf Dragon Slayer.

Plot Edit

In the hall of Hygelac, King of the Geats, a Sea Captain brings the news that Heorot, hall of Hrothgar the Danish King, is being terrorised by Grendel the Night Stalker, a troll from the seaward marshes. Beowulf, Hygelac's young nephew and leader of his warriors, asks leave to go to the aid of Hrothgar who sheltered his parents during his father Ecgtheow's exile (1). Beowulf and his crew land in Denmark and are met by the Coast Warden. They explain their errand and he directs them to Heorot (2). Hrothgar, now old and troubled, welcomes Beowulf, but warns him to consider carefully whether he wishes to risk his life against Grendel. After a feast (during which Hunferth the King's Jester mocks Beowulf about the story of a walrus hunt, and Beowulf retorts that despite capsizing, being dragged under, and washing up in Finland, he was the more successful hunter), Beowulf and his men settle in to await Grendel's coming (3). In darkest night, Grendel bursts into the hall and immediately kills one of Beowulf's companions, Hondscio. Grendel is impervious to weapons, but Beowulf enjoys the strength of thirty men, so he grapples with Grendel until, one arm torn off, Grendel escapes to die of his wound elsewhere. The next day they hang up the arm as a trophy and feast and reward Beowulf and his men, Hrothgar and his queen Wealtheow adopting Beowulf as a son (4). That night, Heorot is taken off-guard by the attack of another of the Troll-kind, Grendel's vengeful, grieving mother, who drags away Hrothgar's dearest friend Aschere. The next day, they follow the trail of Grendel's blood to her sea-cavern, where they kill a walrus and the rueful Hunferth offers Beowulf his sword Hrunting for his solitary dive (5). Beowulf plunges through the walrus-choked waters to the sea floor where the Sea-Hag springs upon him, dragging him into a dry cave. Hrunting cannot pierce her hide nor her saex Beowulf's mail, and Beowulf cannot wrestle her into submission as he did Grendel. Laying hands upon a huge, magic sword, he cuts through her neck, and does the same to the body of Grendel, which causes the sword blade to melt. The waiting Geats and Danes, seeing the gouts of blood rise up from the trolls, despair of Beowulf, until he comes swimming up from the sea hole with Grendel's head (6). Astonished to see Beowulf whom they had given up for dead, Heorot listens to Beowulf's account of the fight and feast and gift once more. The next day, Beowulf takes his leave of Hrothgar, vowing eternal friendship, and takes ship back to Hygelac's Hall, where he shares out his gifts from Hrothgar and returns to his place as his uncle's chief warrior (7).

Much later, after Hygelac and his son have fallen in battle and Beowulf has reigned for fifty peaceful years, a fugitive stumbles into the cave of a fire-drake and escapes with one golden cup from its hoard, the lost treasure of a vanished family. The aggrieved dragon lays waste to Geatland, and Beowulf sets out to battle once more, knowing that this time Wyrd had decreed it will be his last fight. He sings his death-song and walks down to face it alone (8). Sheltering from its flames behind his iron shield, joined by his young kinsman Wiglaf, Beowulf is unable to land a killing blow before his sword breaks on the fire-drake's skull. As Beowulf is mortally wounded by its poisonous claws, Wiglaf stabs its soft underbelly, then Beowulf deals its death-blow. The dying Beowulf asks Wiglaf to show him the dragon's treasure, to raise a burial howe on the headland, and to take the Kingship after him. Beowulf's war host raise his funeral pyre and then his barrow (9).

Timeline Edit

  • A thousand years ago (8, 9): the last of a wealthy family hides their treasure in a cave
  • Three hundred years ago (8): a dragon takes up residence
  • Before Beowulf was born (1): Ecgtheow kills member of the Wylfing tribe and becomes a sea rover, is sheltered by Hrothgar
  • Beowulf's sixth summer (1): Hrothgar pays the Wergild for Ecgtheow and they return to the Geats

Spring:

  • the Sea Captain comes to Hygelac's hall (1)
  • a few days later, Beowulf arrives in Heorot (2)
  • Night 1, Beowulf mortally injures Grendel (4)
  • Day 2, Beowulf is feasted
  • Night 2, Grendel's Dam attacks Heorot (5)
  • Day 3, Beowulf attacks Grendel's Dam (6)
  • Night 3, they feast (7)
  • Day 4, Beowulf and his crew depart
  • Day 6, they return to Hygelac's Hall

Years later (8):

  • King Hrothgar dies and is succeeded by Hrethic
  • King Hygelac dies in battle and is succeeded by young Heardred
  • King Heardred dies in battle as a young man and is succeeded by Beowulf

50 years later (8):

  • A thief stumbles upon the dragon's hoard and the dragon lays waste to Geatland
  • Days later, Beowulf sets out
  • 2 days later, they come to Whale's Ness
  • 10 days later, Beowulf's Barrow is completed (9)

Characters Edit

Italics denote characters named in the poem. See: Wikipedia: List of Beowulf characters

In Geatland:

  • Hygelac, King of the Geats, Beowulf's maternal uncle (1). Killed in battle against the Frisians (8).
  • Angelm, the King's bard
  • the Sea Captain, a trader
  • Heardred, Hrothgar's small son (1). Killed in battled in young manhood (8).
  • Beowulf, "a young man, fair-headed and grey-eyed as most of his fellows were, but taller than they by half a head, and with strength that could out-wrestle the great Northern bear showing in the quiet muscles of his neck and shoulders...sister's son to the King and foremost among his warriors." (1) "He was a peaceable man, slow to wrath and swift to forget an injury; so peaceable that at first men had scorned him for it" (3). "I am an old man and I have lived my life and fought my battles. Fifty winters have I held rule over my people and made them strong so that never a war-host dared to cross our frontiers. I have not sought out feuds, nor sworn many oaths and lightly broken them; and when my life goes out from my body I shall not have to answer to the All-Father for slain kinsfolk or unjust rule." (9).
  • Ecgtheow, Beowulf's father who killed a Wylfing and became a sea-rover, deceased
  • Waegmund, Beowulf's kinsman and dearest of his companions
  • Hondscio (1), one of Beowulf's crew (1), torn limb from limb by Grendel (4)
  • Scaef (1), one of Beowulf's crew (1), carries a bow and arrows to the sea-cave (5)
  • Breca son of Beanstan (3), a boyhood competitor of Beowulf's in a walrus hunt
  • the Coast Warden (7)
  • Hygd the Queen (7)
  • a fire-drake (8)
  • the thief of the dragon's hoard (8), a fugitive from his annoyed chieftain
  • Wiglaf (8), a young warrior, grandson of Waegmund, last of Beowulf's kin
  • Beowulf's Hearth Companions (8), unhelpful

In Denmark:

  • Hrothgar, the great warrior king of the Danish folk, grey-bearded
  • Grendel, the Night Stalker, the Man-Wolf, the Death-Shadow, a marsh troll with loud neighbours (1). Has glowing eyes and unpuncturable hide (4).
  • the Coast Warden (2), a sentinel, an old man
  • Wulfnoth (2), the door-thane, a dark man
  • Garm (3), Hrothgar's favourite hound
  • Hrothgar and Wealtheow's two young sons (3)
  • Hunferth (3) the King's Speechmaker and Jester, "could not endure than any man should shine above himself."
  • Wealtheow the Queen (3), tall, dark, "a second wife, and much younger than her lord"
  • the King's harper (4)
  • Grendel's Dam, the Sea-Hag (5), "she had loved her son, and was therefore more terrible than he had ever been."
  • Aschere (5), Hrothgar's favourite thane and Councillor, taken by Grendel's mother
  • Hrethic (8), Hrothgar's son and successor

Nowhere in particular:

  • Wyrd, who weaves the fates of men (1)
  • the All-Father (3)

Places Edit

Geatland: north across the Baltic from Denmark

  • Hygelac's hall (1)
  • Whale's Ness (8), headland containg the fire-drake's cave, two days' ride from the royal village

Denmark:

  • Heorot the Hart, an antler-crowned king's hall (1) in the shallow vale between the head of a fjord and the moors (2)
  • Beowulf's mother's cavern (5), a sea-hole in a narrow walrus-inhabited inlet opening from a deep gorge cut by a stream off the moors

Finland (3), whither the walrus herd led Beowulf and Breca

Publication history Edit

In English:

  • The Bodley Head (UK), 1961.
  • Dutton (US), 1962.
  • Beowulf Dragon Slayer: The Story of Beowulf. Macmillan, 1980.
  • Beowulf: Dragon Slayer. Red Fox, 1992.
  • Beowulf: Dragon Slayer. Puffin, 2016.

In translation:

  • Dragon: Opracow. Nasza Ksiegarnia, 1966. Polish by Jósef Wilkoń and Anna Rzedpełska-Trzeciakowska.
  • Beowulf. Haum, 1969. Afrikaans by Chris van Lille.
  • Beowulf e la morte del drago. Janus, 1970. Italian by Anna Maria Speckel.
  • Helden en monsters. Leopold, 1975. Dutch by Ruth Wolf, Tonke Dragt.
  • Beowulf der Drachentöter. Verl. Freies Geistesleben, 1994. German.
  • Bēōrufu : Yōkai to ryū to eiyū no monogatari. 原書房. Japanese by Akemi Itsuji.

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