Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “Beowulf”

The Woeful Tale of Beowulf 

Great story–

Everything going pretty well for a king and his village and then out of nowhere this monster reeks destruction (a smelly monster because it lives in a swamp) killing all the strongest and best warriors.  For fourteen years!

The hero arrives. 

Not just any hero. Not only is he an amazing hero–he is epic.

Briefly put, he not only fights the monster but does so naked of weapon (a bit of literary humor). AND he takes on and defeats the monster’s mama who is twice as monsterish.

The king and village are saved. Our hero is more epic than ever. He returns to his homeland and eventually becomes king. He rules for fifty years over a peaceful kingdom. Goes out fighting a dragon. His people love him so much they create a barrow (think–round grassy pyramid).

Our hero’s tale becomes one of the most popular hero tales out there. He’s right up there with ancient epic heroes like Odysseus and Achilles.

Yup–we’re talking Beowulf.

You’d think someone could make a decent film adaptation.

This is the woe of Beowulf. His story has yet to be told.

Adaptation: 2005

Image: pintrest

This has promise. Gerard Butler. Nordic ponies. A troll. Epic setting. Frightening kelta. Everyone looks sufficiently cold and miserable. Then it gets R-rated. Not classroom watchable.

Adaptation: 2007

image: Wikipedia 

English teachers were so excited about this version that a field trip was arranged to the Imax. Bus loads of seniors traveled an hour riding in their preferred mode of cheeswagon to watch a cartoon that so strangely twisted the tale of Beowulf that it is not worth discussing. Most people went to see Angie dressed up as a golden dragon who wears high heels. Truth.

Adaptation : 2015

This is Beowulf in an alternate universe. That’s the only explanation I have. Not much is even close to the original story except they have named the main guy Beowulf and there are some monsters running around. A short-lived TV series. There’s a reason for that.

Beowulf is a really amazing story and no one can get it right. Maybe Marvel can get a greenlight and make it a go.

Oh–I do have one version worth showing. Kind of. It’s also animated but no famous actors were present unless you count the narrrator, Derek Jacobi, and other assorted worthwhile Brit actors lending their voice talents such as Joseph Fiennes.

Adaptation: 1998

This faithfully follows the story. The only strange part is the monster, Grendel, is rendered as a furry green Jello creature instead of a troll. There is also a trippy interlude of Beowulf fighting the dragon.

Film folk–open challenge: 

Bring Beowulf to the screen so there is no more woe when watching Beowulf.

Lit One-Liners

BookRiot became another 2013 discovery, and I am hooked. How could I resist posts delivered free to my mailbox which concern all things books? I definitely found this one by Rachel Cordasco a saver. It will be incorporated into my AP warm-ups where I have students create micro-précis  statements as a ready-set-go for the May exam. Here are some pull-outs from Cardasco’s post:

    Posted by   Rachel Cordasco   from BookRiot            

30 One-Sentence Lessons from Literature

1. Hamlet by William Shakespeare: Just make up your mind already, dude.

2. Anything by Stephen Crane: It doesn’t matter what you do- the Universe still thinks you’re super lame.

3. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes: You can never read too many novels…oh wait, maybe you can…

4. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser: Cluelessness is not something you want to broadcast when you’re a young woman in strange new city, for you’ll just become a skeevy-guy magnet.

5. Dracula by Bram Stoker: If you have a choice between Count Dracula’s castle and the Holiday Inn, stay at the Holiday Inn.

6. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: If you absolutely must create a freakish monster thing, be sure to make a girlfriend for it, cause if you don’t, he’ll be really, really mad.

7. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka: Sucks to be a bug.

8. Macbeth by William Shakespeare: You should treat your guests well by, you know, not murdering them in their beds.

9. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: When you travel around in a boat with a friend, away from human civilization, when you do run in to people you realize just how crazy they all are.

10. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen: When it comes down to choosing between the hot guy who treats you like crap and the not-as- hot guy who treats you like a queen, it’s really not a choice at all.

11. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad: Don’t frighten the natives.

12. The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells: When the freaky alien things come swooping down on Earth and shooting lasers or whatever at everyone, run as fast as you can cause those aliens are mean.

13. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Yeah, yeah, money can’t buy happiness- check.

14. Anything by e. e. cummings:



are for


15. King Lear by William Shakespeare: Don’t bother arguing with your parents. Or your children. Just don’t bother.


My own contributions:

Beowulf by John Gardner: growing up in a cave with a fiendish mother definitely changes your perspective

Daisy Miller by Henry James: It’s true, when in Rome, or at least in Italy, as a single American girl, who should do as the Romans–Italians do–then again, maybe not.

Room with a View by E.M. Forester: what is about Italy and young women anyway?

“The Lovesong of Alfred J. Prufrock” T.S. Eliot: What if, What if, What if Hamlet hadn’t been your poster boy of decision-making?

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson: getting in touch with your inner feelings definitely deserves a second thought

The Epicness of Poetry

Beowulf, The Iliad, and The Odyssey.  How could you get through public education and not have to study at least one of these? (Actually, I did–but that’s a different post). In our hurry-up world t’s not often we sit down and commit to reading 3,000 plus lines.  Welcome to Epic Poetry 101.

We tend to think of these triads of classic adventures as stories or myths.  Actually they are all poems.  Really long poems.  This is what makes them epic.

A brief pause…

Understanding Epic.

Today’s meaning:


Actual Meaning: (thanks



A long poem, typically derived from oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the history of…
Of, relating to, or characteristic of an epic or epics.
noun. epos – epopee
adjective. heroic – epical

Back to our blog post…

Now that epic real definition versus epic contemporary understanding is out of the way, moving on to epic poetry will make much more sense. Epic poetry is epic because it is BIG. It’s big in scope, deed, theme, length–it’s just, well, epic (dude). Plus, it’s so big that it is italicized (or underlined or bolded) instead of the usually “quotes around poems” bit of mechanics.  Yup, this poetry is so big that it gets to change the punctuation rules.

Although technically I should address Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey first, I’m going with Beowulf, not so much because it’s considered the foundation of English literature and it introduces the dragon slayer archetype as well as mix pagan and Christian thematic elements–I choose it first because of Gerard Butler made Beowulf come to life for me.


If you’ve never studied Beowulf, you should–don’t believe the Angelina Jolie version is Beowulf.  Nope. T’snt at all. Gerard Butler’s version isn’t either. So heads up Hollywood, we need a REAL version of this monumentally important epic poem.  Here’s to get you started…

Beowulf Key Facts ala Sparknotes:

full title  ·  Beowulf

author  · Unknown

type of work  · Poem

genre  · Alliterative verse; elegy; resembles heroic epic, though smaller in scope than most classical epics

language  · Anglo-Saxon (also called Old English)

time and place written  · Estimates of the date of composition range between 700 and 1000 a.d.; written in England

date of first publication  · The only manuscript in which Beowulf is preserved is thought to have been written around 1000 a.d.

publisher  · The original poem exists only in manuscript form.

narrator  · A Christian narrator telling a story of pagan times

point of view  · The narrator recounts the story in the third person, from a generally objective standpoint—detailing the action that occurs. The narrator does, however, have access to every character’s depths. We see into the minds of most of the characters (even Grendel) at one point or another, and the narrative also moves forward and backward in time with considerable freedom.

tone  · The poet is generally enthusiastic about Beowulf’s feats, but he often surrounds the events he narrates with a sense of doom.

tense  · Past, but with digressions into the distant past and predictions of the future

setting (time)  · The main action of the story is set around 500 a.d.; the narrative also recounts historical events that happened much earlier.

setting (place)  · Denmark and Geatland (a region in what is now southern Sweden)

protagonist  · Beowulf

major conflict  · The poem essentially consists of three parts. There are three central conflicts: Grendel’s domination of Heorot Hall; the vengeance of Grendel’s mother after Grendel is slain; and the rage of the dragon after a thief steals a treasure that it has been guarding. The poem’s overarching conflict is between close-knit warrior societies and the various menaces that threaten their boundaries.

rising action  · Grendel’s attack on Heorot, Beowulf’s defeat of Grendel, and Grendel’s mother’s vengeful killing of Aeschere lead to the climactic encounter between Beowulf and Grendel’s mother.

climax  · Beowulf’s encounter with Grendel’s mother constitutes the moment at which good and evil are in greatest tension.

falling action  · Beowulf’s glorious victory over Grendel’s mother leads King Hrothgar to praise him as a worthy hero and to advise him about becoming king. It also helps Beowulf to transform from a brazen warrior into a reliable king.

themes  · The importance of establishing identity; tensions between the heroic code and other value systems; the difference between a good warrior and a good king

motifs  · Monsters; the oral tradition; the mead-hall

symbols  · The golden torque; the banquet

foreshadowing  · The funeral of Shield Sheafson, with which the poem opens, foreshadows Beowulf’s funeral at the poem’s end; the story of Sigemund told by the scop, or bard, foreshadows Beowulf’s fight with the dragon; the story of King Heremod foreshadows Beowulf’s eventual ascendancy to kingship.

If you are up for reading the poem:

Gutenberg Project

If you want an entertaining analysis:


If you want to skip Beowulf and go to The Iliad and The Odyssey

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