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on 5 December 2012
Very absorbing read. Good romping storey that goes back to the original homeland of the Angles of East Anglia in Southern sweden. It seems to be a development of the older Germanic / Norse storey of Sigrun / Siefgfried, the dragon and the treasure. A Jungian Archetypal Myth if ever there was one
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VINE VOICEon 6 August 2013
The Penguin Epics edition of Beowulf is a 117 page translation in verse form by Michael Alexander. It is the same translation as the Penguin Classics edition but does not contain the additional contextual information.

Beowulf is of course the legendary Old English epic written probably over a thousand years ago. It is a Scandic tale rather than an English one, the action taking place in the lands of various Scandic and Germanic factions. What makes it special is its existence as such a great early Old English work. What makes it epic is that Beowulf tells a series of outstanding adventures captured in the literary style of the Germanic peoples who populated northern Europe including Eastern Britain.

There are various translations of Beowulf. This translation makes a very interesting judgement call. It retains a lot of the Germanic sentence structure rather than aiming for a more readable style to modern English users. This makes for a tough read at times in English but a more natural fit in terms of sub-clause use and verb positioning for those familiar with German and its most closely related languages. After a while the more complex composition becomes increasingly readable to the point where a reader can find ease in the word order patterns.

There are occasional points to criticise in the translation. In particular the translation of the word Wyrd. It is hard to skip over the translation of Wyrd as Weird because it makes no sense in modern English. Fate would have been a better translation. It is particularly difficult to skip over when used around the adventure with the dragon give the proximity of Old English Wyrm and Wyrd. Why one has the modern English translation and not the other is hard to follow.

Still, the translation by Michael Alexander is rich and evocative. It is hard to describe the times and places of Beowulf but the Epics edition does a decent enough job.

The story itself is of course outstanding. It is the 14th book in the Penguin Epics collection and comes much later than some of the earlier works in the series. The later nature makes it a much more advanced work than those which have come before except perhaps Cupid & Psyche. What makes it so distinct is the crossover of symbolism, heroic deed, and societal structure. The bonds between people are much more organic than in more ancient literature.

It helps that Beowulf is not just fiction but the elements that may be fictitious are still gripping. The battles against Grendel is surprisingly short, Beowulf defeating Grendel in their first combat. Grendel's mother offers another foe for Beowulf but he is able to defeat both of them. He does so in different circumstances. The battle with Grendel taking place in the familiar surroundings of a great hall. The battle with Grendel's mother however is more fantastic. This battle is much more of an adventure into legend with the fight itself taking place underwater, where Beowulf would in reality have stood no chance.

That there is a distinction between a more real environment for the battle with Grendel and a fabulous one in combat with Grendel's mother could suggest slightly different traditions. Was Grendel real?

The possibility of reality exists because of the non-fiction elements of the work. The battles against Frisians and the Battle on the Ice being parts of the sequence of wars in northern Europe.

That Beowulf himself is a Geat is fascinating. It is thrilling to have a work of this quality preserve a tale from a defeated people. As a people now culturally assimilated into Swedes, it is really exciting to hear their voice from an elder time.

Beowulf's ultimate demise comes in battle with a dragon. His men are not brave enough to take on the great wyrm but Beowulf and the dragon are each other's match. It is a terrific fight and a great way for a hero to go.

Beowulf's Christian nature is a little odd. He initially is presented as a Christian hero which does not fit with the Christianisation of the region. There is only limited reference to Christianity as the work progresses. It seems as though the religious element was a later addition. It certainly is not enough of an addition to erode the references to traditional Scandic society and culture.

The influence of this great work on more modern literature is entirely obvious. Tolkien lifted not just ideas and themes from Beowulf even character names. The most famous author in the fantasy genre turns out to have written tales that could almost be sequels to this old epic.

The Penguin Epics edition does not contain any additional information other than the work itself. It fits within the Penguin Epics Collection. The Penguin Classics version apparently contains a bit more. This absence does no real harm to the work at all for those familiar with north European mythology or history, or indeed for those able to do a bit of follow-up research themselves.

Beowulf is a must read for everyone. Which edition to choose is a matter of choice. This offering was a good choice for this reader.
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on 31 December 2009
I too have come to prefer this translation (Michael Alexander's) against Seamus Heaney (no disrespect to an undoubtedly great poet).

It is poetic. It has readability (not easy to obtain with a poem such as Beowulf). Also if you're buying you need an edition with a good introduction and a 'person' key at the end (or somewhere in the book).

The 'monster' bits are quite easy to read but the different names and clans mentioned get a bit confusing when talking about people and not Grendel, his mother or the Worm and in many ways the digressions of the poem are at the core of what it's about so whichever translation you use get an edition with (and use) the reading aids mentioned above.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 September 2012
In Beowulf we return to the heroic society of fifth century Scandinavia, albeit through the lens of eighth century Anglo-Saxon England which is where and when the poem was composed. Telling of the predations of Grendel, a `monster' descending from Cain, and the heroic exploits of the warrior Beowulf, this is an interesting read alongside other epic poems such as the Iliad, the German and Norse cycles, the Icelandic sagas etc.

Especially interesting in this poem is the role of Grendel's mother, never named other than by her relationship to Grendel himself, who takes revenge - always a problematically gendered act - upon herself. Given the narrative's erasure of a father for Grendel, the role of maternity is thus foregrounded in this poem in fascinating ways.

This isn't a long poem as epics go, only 3,200 lines, so about the length of four books of the Aeneid. This is an old translation (1973) which has been lightly revised, and which captures some of the grave solemnity and grandeur of the original. This edition also contains a brief introduction and some useful notes. So this isn't a scholarly edition but it a useful gloss for anyone struggling with Old English, or the general reader wanting to experience this marvellous poem.
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on 24 November 2009
I'm sorry, but I think Seamus Heaney's translation is vastly inferior to this one. For Michael Alexander, a sword bites flesh; for Heaney a sword cuts flesh. For Heaney (when the dragon is rising in fury like the Kraken from the depths) there's "a rumble underground". It sounds to me as though Heaney's house is probably built above the Northern Line.
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on 2 March 2014
There are plenty of reviews of Michael Alexander's 1973 translation of Beowolf, so I will limit this to my usual rantings about sloppy Kindle formatting.

Again, we have a terribly formatted Kindle book from Penguin - a mainstream publisher - who, quite frankly, should know better. I now have a number of Penguin books on my Kindle; very very few of them have satisfactory formatting that replicates the print edition, which makes the issues even more infuriating. When you take their excellent editions of the The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights: Volume 1 (Penguin Classics), it makes you wonder why the same level of care and attention hasn't been paid to all books published by Penguin.

I shall be keeping this book because this is the translation I want. But I've decided to write a direct email to Penguin about their formatting issues as the methods of providing feedback via Amazon seem to be futile; nothing has ever come of a feedback submission or live chat.

If you want to see how this epic poem should be formatted, check the "Look Inside" on the paperback version. Unfortunately, you can't get as far as the actual text of the poem on the Kindle sample.
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on 15 January 2015
I needed this for my Literature degree and it's good. A little wear and tear but I will blame that on the packaging and etc. The book provides plenty of space for me to write notes in which will be so handy in lectures. It has line numbers every 10 lines. Would of have preferred for it to be cheaper though. The epic poem is only 118 pages or less but I the rest makes up for the Introduction and the references and bibliography at the back of the book.

Any 1st year Literature student should get this if this poem is on their modules!
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on 7 July 2011
Terrible formatting with non-standard text size, and the lines of the poem are indented in such a way to render it unreadable. The explanatory notes at the end of the book are not hyperlinked to the text; in fact, there are not even any footnote numbers in the text.

If you download the sample, you can only see the first half of the introduction, so there is no way you can tell how bad the text of the poem is.

This is the third Penguin book I have bought for my Kindle, and each one has the same problems. Why does Amazon allow Penguin to offer such shoddy products, and then allow them to charge something close to full print price for clearly inferior editions?
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on 10 June 2013
Beowulf is the iconic work of literature in Old English. The story of heroic Beowulf and his battles with the monster Grendel and also with Grendel's mother not to mention the dragon is rather awesome. Translation by Michael Alexander, first published on 1973 is very skillfully put together and admirable.
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on 13 January 2017
Essential. A great translation in a wonderful format. Get it, read it, and make it part of your own canon. Plus you'll look clever if it's on your shelf.
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