Sunday, October 28, 2007

New Beowulf Book

An Illustrated Edition

Translated by Seamus Heaney

Illustrations edited by John D. Niles

“This illustrated edition is the next best thing to being in the mead hall at Heorot, watching the action, with Heaney chanting it beside you.” ¾Neil Gaiman

Over fifteen centuries after the events the poem describes take place; ten centuries after the unique manuscript version was written down; almost 200 years after the poem was first published in a modern edition; seven years after the initial publication of Seamus Heaney’s best-selling translation; and coinciding with a Hollywood film adaptation written by Neil Gaiman and starring Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, and Angelina Jolie, the epic Anglo-Saxon tale of Beowulf is more popular, and relevant, than ever before. Yet, whether approached in translation or in the original language, the poem’s action has always seemed to take place in a realm of fantasy rather than in the very real world of Iron Age Scandinavia where it is set. Now, Heaney’s outstanding translation is coupled with over 120 images that document the artifacts mentioned in the poem and evoke its atmosphere and physical setting. BEOWULF: An Illustrated Edition (W.W. Norton; November 5, 2007; $24.95; paper), translated by Seamus Heaney with illustrations edited by John D. Niles, brings the visual world of this touchstone of Western literature vividly to life for the first time.

The story of Beowulf’s triumphs over Grendel and Grendel’s mother and his tragic victory over the dragon—a story charged with the power of fate, the thrills of heroism and its attendant fame, and the complexities of the eternal struggle of good against evil—has never before received the visual celebration it deserves. What sort of buildings did Beowulf and the other characters inhabit? How did the poet envision their ships and horses? What kind of arms and armor did they use? What sort of beasts flourished in their imagination? And what sort of riches awaited those heroes who were triumphant?

Heaney’s translation alone “does something other than bring [Beowulf] up into our time. It transports us to his and lets us wander there; after which home will never seem entirely the same” (The New York Times). This illustrated edition not only transports us to the poem’s milieu but also guides us on our journey. A different image faces almost every page of verse, offering a visual counterpart to the poem’s events or scenes and, sometimes, suggesting answers to questions that have been on the minds of generations of Beowulf readers.

Beautiful photographs of artifacts give us a window into Iron Age Europe, with its helmets, swords, and jewelry. Drawings and photos of reconstructed Viking Age ships are juxtaposed with the sea-voyages to and from Denmark, while photographs of a third-century chain mail shirt and an ancient dagger accompany Beowulf’s escape from the clutches of Grendel’s mother. Dragon-shaped ornaments forged by master smiths punctuate the poem’s dragon episode, while photographs of prehistoric barrows in Denmark and Sweden help readers imagine what the dragon’s lair or the hero’s final resting place might have looked like. The reader is also invited to look inside a reconstruction of a Danish hall, admire goblets of the kind that kings and queens of this period might have passed to their guests, and contemplate woodcuts that evoke the bleak mood of the poem’s closing scenes.

More than simply providing a backdrop for the poem, BEOWULF: An Illustrated Edition offers a crash course in the material culture of northern Europe during the first millennium. The book’s captions, together with a substantial afterword by Niles on “Visualizing Beowulf,” complement these photographs and drawings with much information relating to the archaeology of the period. This is an edition that long-time fans of Beowulf will cherish for its new perspective, that will entice new readers to the poem, and that will appeal to educators who wish to explore new ways of understanding the story.

About the Translator and Editor

Seamus Heaney received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. He teaches regularly at Harvard University and lives in Dublin.

John D. Niles is the Frederic G. Cassidy Professor of Humanities at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a specialist in Beowulf studies.

Title: BEOWULF: An Illustrated Edition
Translator: Seamus Heaney
Publication Date: November 5, 2007
Illustrations: 80 color, 41 black-and-white
ISBN: 978-0-393-33010-6
Price: $24.95; paperback

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really want to read the book now!