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Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great fun!, 3 Mar. 2014
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This review is from: Beowulf's Return (Tales of Beowulf) (Kindle Edition)
This is a super little story which could easily form the basis for a longer novel. It reminded me somewhat of The Eaters Of the Dead by Michael Crichton but with real supernatural episodes. The author wears his obvious knowledge of northern mythology very lightly and has produced a very enjoyable tale to while away a few hours for the price of a chocolate bar. What's not to like?
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 13 Sep 2014 23:42:35 BDT
R Conway says:
My favourite hobby is collecting and reading top quality novels based on the written sources of the Ancient World, Dark Ages and Viking Age, reading the novels in tandem with the sources (mostly in translation except for Icelandic & Old Norse). And I've got a bottomless appetite for good novels on the Anglo Saxon invasion and Beowulf poem, and the Icelandic sagas.

Now, there is a plethora of would be novelists, writing mostly on kindle, and doubtless honorable and well meaning, on my favourite periods. Unfortunately, for me, most of them are unreadable: these would be novelist enthusiasts seem to be either careless or clueless about the origin and meaning of words, the texture of language, or any kind of discriminating use of it in the narrative or dialogue to make it culturally suitable for its period or ethnic linguistic group. Language is intrinsic to thinking and concepts, and any decent historical novel worthy of the name needs to get inside the characters' heads, to make the imaginative effort to speak and think as they did.

The narrative of these kindle authors is by a 21st century person, and the characters speak and sound like 21st century people down at the pub. They are basically modern people in fancy dress.

The prose is sprinkled with Latin or Greek derived words, totally unsuitable when the characters are Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Svíar or Geats. The author should be using only Germanic derived words, for a start. I've looked at this Kindle sample: we have Beowulf talking about a 'welcome committee', for heaven's sake! 'Committee' is a Latin derived word from 'com' with and 'mittere' to send. The connotations of such a word are quite inappropriate. It is quite possible to construct an entire novel about Norse or Germanic people in suitable English, there is a wealth of vocabulary to do it. Look at Poul Anderson's Norse novels.

May I suggest, Mr May, reading a Norse novel by Poul Anderson, or an Ancient world, or Dark Age novel by Henry Treece: try The Green Man, on the Amleth story, set in the same period. It's out of print, but obtainable on Amazon, and what a pity it IS out of print. If some would be kindle authors read Treece's works, they might see the immense uncomfortable gap between their 21st style depictions of the past, and something really aiming to get there, in language and thought.

L. P. Hartley famously said, in the opening sentence of his novel The Go Between: "The Past is a foreign country; they do things differently there". They do, indeed, and it's not a comfort zone. It means taking on all the alien, strange, superfluous mental baggage we have thrown away as no longer of use. I think part of the problem too is that in the past, a classical education was an automatic part of the grammar school system: people imbibed a natural sense of what were Latin or Greek derived words, and could easily identify them from their structure, and from the whole ideational system they connote. I certainly did. Now, would be authors seem clueless about this. And their prose, due to generations of reading decline, is at best, mediocre and so cliche ridden, it's deeply depressing. It's even more depressing when combined with the stunning stylish visual graphics that these kindle products always seem to have: as our age of burgeoning audio visual technology gets ever more sophisticated, technology doesn't only enhance, but displace, human abilities.

Please: go and read Henry Treece's The Green Man and Alfred Duggan's The Conscience of the King.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Sep 2014 18:45:09 BDT
Last edited by the author on 14 Sep 2014 18:48:03 BDT
Hello, thanks for your comments which I found interesting. I think that you will agree that Tim Hodkinson is more than qualified to write on this subject if you look at his bio, despite his use of Latin and Greek based words. I really did try to remain true to the spirit of the original when I wrote my own Beowulf based trilogy, Sword of Woden, and its follow up novella, Dayraven. However, I think that we sometimes pay too much attention to the few sources which have come down to us when we imagine 'life in the past.' How would a group of wealthy 17, 18 or 19 year old men behave with unlimited ale supplies and plenty of time on their hands in 2014, 1514 or 514? Pretty much the same way I imagine (Bullingdon Club, anyone?) Shakespeare died on his own birthday pub crawl at an age he should have known better! I feel that an author should aim to enjoy his writing and entertain at the same time and to my mind Tim has done that with this short story. It is fantasy, clearly, but did the original Beowulf audience really believe in sea monsters and dragons? Did the Romans really believe that certain ruling families were descended from Hercules? I stand by my title-I enjoyed reading it, it was fun. I will have a look at the books you mention, they sound very interesting. Feel free to look around my website at http://cliffordmay.com, and let me know your thoughts via the contact link there if you wish.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Sep 2014 21:33:08 BDT
R Conway says:
Thanks for your reply, and of course your arguments are pretty well what I anticipated. Yes, I'd already seen the Hodkinson bio, and that he'd studied Medieval English and Old Norse -what can I say but I wish he'd used those qualifications to better effect? But don't get me wrong: I thought your post fair enough. And, as I said, I don't doubt that these writers are sincere honorable enthusiasts, often with much knowledge or practical interests about their locality and the period.

What it boils down to is this: what is the author trying to do first? Is his first objective to write the very best historical novel he can, in terms of literary artistry & historical accuracy, to get at the most effective and accurate depiction of the past culture within his powers of imagination and knowledge.

Or is his overriding priority to communicate, to get an audience, write a best seller if possible, to amuse and entertain the average kind of guy who goes down to the pub and fancies himself in the Sutton Hoo helmet? The more the novel contains of the original culture, the greater is the exertion demanded of the reader, the more he or she has to use intelligence and mental adaptation.

It's pretty clear that most of this plethora of Anglo Saxon and Viking action Sutton Hoo helmet kindle brigade is aimed at primarily at the 2nd objective, isn't it? Good luck to them; it's better that the original period and sources should be recycled for a new generation in some sort of form, distorted through the prism of 21st century perspective, than none at all. But it's no good to me personally, it's often worse than nothing as when I read it I feel the past is almost being stolen from me.

The sad thing is that possibly, both objectives could be fulfilled. There are a lot of wonderful novels hardly known about, with a small circle of readers or out of print, jewels lying unregarded and unknown in the midden heap, compared with which, I simply don't rate the average modern best seller as a book at all. I just wish some of these modern authors had tried them; it might give them a different perspective.

As for your pub crawl simile: the true answer is no: men in 514AD lived in a very different world, thousands of times more dirty, dangerous, savage, and insecure, and their mental perspective was a chasms away from Mondeo Man, with the police, the NHS, insurance policies, instant communication and hundreds of other safety nets, and vastly different value systems. I used to read some of these modern attempts and couldn't at first define what I felt was wrong. It wasn't that there were necessarily gross anachronisms. What is wrong is what they DON'T put in, what they leave out, the totally strange elements in the culture. But if you read an Ancient World or Dark Age novel by say, Robert Graves or Alfred Duggan, or Henry Treece, you'll find them there, in that foreign country.

The issue about the sources is a deeply interesting point but to take it up would make this post even longer.
Anyway, many thanks for responding, I'll have a look at your website.
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