Beowulf is an amazing, complex, fascinating poem on which entire bookcases of scholarship have been written. We’re going to be looking at it as a starting place for our reworkings because it also fascinated some of the key writers of modern fantasy; they have studied it, translated it, reworked it and brought its tropes and motifs into modern texts. So it’s really essential reading for us as we look at the influence of medieval texts.
Since we’re starting with Beowulf this week, here are some online resources that you may find useful, both now and later on in the module when you’re beginning to make your own connections between medieval and modern texts. There’ll be a bibliography on hard copy texts in the WebCT section shortly. Since this blog may seem to have a lot of links, things to prioritise for now are in bold. All of this is extra material which I’m providing for you to work with as and when you have the time and the inclination, not work that is set for the seminar. It’s aimed to help you out with developing key areas further, and it’s up to you to use it however seems best to you.
For general use, there is some introductory material and the text in Old English and Modern English at the Beowulf in Hypertext site, found here.
A huge amount of material can be found in Beowulf on Steorarume (Beowulf in Cyberspace). There are translations, a whole heap of useful reference material, supplementary texts and a particularly wide-ranging ‘the making of’ section which might deal with questions you have about how the poem came into existence in its present form.
Marijane Osborne’s extraordinarily comprehensive list of Beowulf translations arranged by date here gives a good impression of how people were responding to the poem and what they thought it was about during different periods. Compare the earlier times, the late 1800s and the early 1900s to get a feel for what Tolkien was dealing with when he first encountered the poem.
There is an interesting range of material on the Beowulf: Still a Hero site at You might like to try some of their tasks (like writing your own boast, Anglo-Saxon style!). In particular, have a look at the ‘definition of epic’” page and think about the ways in which such a definition might interact with definitions of fantasy writing.
For more general information on Anglo-Saxon literature and culture, Michelle Brown’s online seminar An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts covers a lot of ground and is detailed and reliable.
See also the brief description of Anglo-Saxon life here.
If you’ve found resources or translations particularly interesting or useful as you work with Beowulf, feel free to post details in the comments section below.
Hope you enjoy getting to know Beowulf better!