Tuesday, January 8, 2008

[Book Review] Beowulf by Caitlin R. Kiernan

From the Book Cover:

Who will come to the aid of beleaguered King Hrothgar, whose warriors have become the prey of the vengeful outcast monster Grendel?

A grand and glorious story that has endured for centuries, the ageless classic adventure takes on a breathtaking new life in a remarkable new version for a modern era. Brilliantly reimagined by acclaimed, award-winning author Caitlin R. Kiernan, based on the screenplay by #1 New York Times bestseller Neil Gaiman and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Roger Avary, it is the tale of a noble liege and a terrible creature who has cursed his kingdom with death, blood, and destruction – and of the great hero, Beowulf, who is called to a land of monsters to triumph where so many have failed… or to die as so many of the brave before him.

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From the depths of my memory the name Beowulf rings a bell after seeing the movie trailer inside the darkened theater and I told myself that I’ll watch that movie when it opens in theaters but sad to say, due to time constraints (because I wanted to read the original epic translation of Beowulf first before watching the film version) I somehow missed it and worse, I couldn’t find the original epic book version.

But it looks like the heavens are with me because an officemate gave me this movie-tie in book version by Caitlin R. Kiernan as a belated birthday gift (to you who gave me this, thank you!). I was planning to read this last November 2007 but I kept putting it off maybe because it wasn’t the original translation and because I didn’t get to see the movie the whole three weeks it was showing in theaters.

It was only during the Christmas break that I finally got around to reading it because of the fact that I have nothing new to read and I remembered I still have Beowulf gathering dust as he waits for me to remember, go back to and get to know him.

Having zero knowledge about what the epic Beowulf is all about except for the fact that he is some country’s long forgotten hero and the fact that his song is in the list of the world’s best literature that my high school English teacher enumerated with such a brief description it completely slipped off my mind and was easily relegated to the darkest recesses of my memory. Of course, I’m too lazy to Google it at that time (because what I might read on the net might ruin the suspense for me) and, like I said before, I’d like to be surprised and be entertained when I read a story.

My journey with Beowulf started on December 28, 2007 and ended just last January 1, 2008 and though I could have read the novel in the span of one day, I didn’t gobble it up like I usually do and I don’t know why I prolonged the agony of suspense.

It was indeed a memorable journey for me because ever since my teacher enumerated that list of the world’s best literature, I wanted to own every book listed there and now at least two of them are mine now.

Beowulf is a Geat who sailed the seas towards the kingdom of King Hrothgar with fourteen men with him, warriors all of them, when it has been said that King Hrothgar’s kingdom is cursed by a demon. They journeyed on despite bad weather and towering walls of water in the hopes of finding glory if they survive because their names will be sung until the end of time or to die gloriously in battle and earn a seat at Odin’s Valhalla at Asgard rather than to die of old age.

Beowulf thought the real monster was Grendel but King Hrothgar, Queen Wealthow, and Unferth knew better and later Beowulf finally understands who the real monster is but then it is already too late for such realizations or regrets as it usually is the case with regrets always coming in the end.

It is a great story and it does deserve its place as one of the world’s best literature but then, I still wonder how did it all start – the part where it is said that the demon’s curse started since the time of King Hrothgar’s great ancestors and the curse probably ended with Beowulf but then the demon was trying to continue the cycle with the new king but he didn’t fall for it and it is said that the demon can wait for as long as need be and she can be very persuasive. I wonder if that last king of the Old Ways did finally succumb to her spell or was he able to resist her potent magic and ultimately prevailed and thus freed the kingdom of the vile demon and her curse?

With all these unanswered questions still buzzing around in my head, I hope when I get to watch the movie I’ll finally have my answers. If not, well, I can only imagine and I’d rather have a triumphant ending.

It is a great read and despite the holiday activities, I find it really hard to put the book down for an hour or two or more just to be able to finish my chores and errands and to rest my eyes and to sleep. Although this is not the original translation, I feel that the story of Beowulf was given due justice and the way Caitlin Kiernan describes everything truly brings Beowulf to life. The epic adventure of Beowulf teaches the readers not to underestimate anyone, whoever they may be; to be always prepared for the worst and best scenarios in life; and while it is alright to dream big and work hard for it, a person should know when to stop if greed is becoming your driving force to achieve your dreams; to learn from the mistakes of others; and to always keep in mind that by our own strengths will we achieve greatness and thus by our own faults our own downfall will be upon us.