Thursday, November 10, 2011

Beowulf

Beowulf is an intriguing work, an epic poem about a warrior who takes on the monster Grendel, Grendel's mother, and a dragon. Full of battle, blood, and guts, this tale would seem to be enticing to many readers, save for the fact that it was written in Old English and is nigh-impossible for many to understand. This adaptation mitigates language issues with a graphic depiction of the people and actions of the poem combined with translations from the poem itself.

Painted in a style that combines elements of woodcuts, illuminated manuscripts, and comic books, this book portrays a cold, bleak world, which is fitting because the tale is set in medieval Denmark. Combined with the poem, the art captures well the ambiguity of a story that has both pagan and Christian elements, with characters evoking the Lord but also behaving very much like vikings. The action sequences are largely presented without words, and they convey a strong sense of energy and motion. Great attention to detail mixed with the use of larger spreads to communicate impact make for some excellent story-telling.

This book is the creation of Gareth Hinds, an accomplished artist who has worked in media ranging from the fine arts to video game design. He now works exclusively on graphic novels and has created a number of other graphic adaptations of literary works, including The Merchant of Venice, King Lear, and most recently, The Odyssey. He details his life and work in his blog, and he speaks about his work on Beowulf in this interview.

All the reviews I have seen for this book have been very positive. Robert M. Tilendis gave the book "two thumbs up" and wrote that "the illustrations are magical." Marty Dodge called it "the most impressive graphic novel I have ever seen." Speaking to educators, Chris Wilson summed up that "Hinds’ work is expressive and poetic and worthy for the classroom."

This edition was published by Candlewick Press. Hinds provides links to reviews as well as excerpts from the book here.

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