The story of Beowulf is one of the most vital pieces of epic poetry in the English tongue. It has been translated into many languages based upon the original manuscript dating to the tenth and eleventh centuries AD. Covering a broad range of events in the style of Norse sagas or skalds, Beowulf is full of ribald bravado and heroic boasting. One can picture the warriors sitting around the hearth telling such tales, with their scale becoming more exagerated with each generation. While the original Nowell Codex gives a vivid description of such exciting adventures surrounding the Geat hero Beowulf, such as his great battle against the ‘monster’ Grendel, it can nonetheless be difficult to read for even the most dedicated fans. This is where John Harris attempts to portray the story in an amusing and accessible manner for all ages of reader. Thankfully, the illustrated book is a resounding success; the story is maintained at its core and the illustrations help to add a strong level of imagery for its audience. Tom Morgan-Jones is the illustrator behind such colourful pages and his work is worthy of praise. Their joint effort in creating this book has certainly paid off as the manner of writing and art both compliment one another beautifully.
Without giving too much of the plot away in this review, the story largely revolves around the escapades of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, and of the hero Beowulf. It is told in the third person perspective and utilises everyday language. While the target demographic is children and young readers, as demonstrated through its use of consistent illustrated panels, people of all ages will find it charming. Whether you are a parent reading the story to young children or an adult who simply has a passion for Norse or Old English literature, John Harris has created a version of Beowulf and Grendel which is suitable for everyone. What is arguably most impressive is his success in retaining the core elements of the tale: Unabashed pride, heroic courage, humour and a sense of underlying melancholy. ‘The Geat’ is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours with a cup of tea while listening to the rain tapping against your window sill, or curled up in a ‘pillow fort’ with your children as you proceed to eat cookies.
-Accessible language for young readers and adults alike.
-Colourful illustrations reminiscent of Roald Dahl and similar artistic styles.
-The narrative is kept intact from the original manuscript.
-A child-friendly ‘horror’ story which can be read at Halloween.
-John Harris does a great job conveying emotions and imagery.
Areas for Improvement:
-Older readers may find the style formulaic or slightly repetitive (not an issue for the target audience).
-The final and climactic plot point (no spoilers) could perhaps be developed in further detail.
Rating: 8/10 (adult) 9/10 (young readers)