Writing Beowulf

A portion of the Beowulf manuscript. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“I need a challenge,” I told my husband the other day. I’ve not long finished my newest book, I’m not ready to start the next one, and I was rather at loose ends. Until I remembered a project I’d half-considered earlier: an adaptation of Beowulf.

In Empire’s Heir, my sixth book, the character Sorley hears a tale new to him, and, because he is a bard with all the responsibility that title carries: historian, poet, cultural custodian– he puts the tale into verse and music. The conceit is that the poem he writes is Beowulf – but as no one knows who wrote it, why not Sorley?

Half an hour later, Sorley had finished singing about Hrothgar and heroes and monsters, and I could stand without too much pain.

“That is not a danta* for children,” I commented, as Apulo slipped a fresh tunic over my head.

“Not unless nightmares are called for,” Sorley agreed. “It’s interesting; there are other danta about Hrothgar, and others with dragons, but nothing else I know with these monsters of the deep. I wonder what traditions are behind it?”

Empire’s Heir

In front of me I have three translations of Beowulf: Seamus Heaney’s, JRR Tolkien’s, and John Lesslie Hall’s, from the Gutenberg Project. The goal is to glean meaning from these – my Old English was never great, and is now so rusty I can only pick out a word here and there – and create my own, or rather Sorley’s – version. Not of the whole poem (I don’t think), but an excerpt or two. Unless, of course, the challenge spurs me on!

Helen Stratton, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

*A danta, in my parallel, not-quite-historical, world, is a story-song.

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