Along with a number of movie adaptations, Beowulf has been novelized here and there. John Gardner’s Grendel stands out, but Susan Signe Morrison’s Grendel’s Mother: The Saga of the Wyrd-Wife, takes adaptation a step further.
Instead of just retelling the story of Beowulf from Grendel’s mother’s perspective as the title suggests, Morrison goes all in with her titular character. In fact, the novel begins with a fisherman’s wife discovering the child that grows up to be the fearsome woman of the moors. So, much like Gardner’s Grendel, Grendel’s Mother: The Saga of the Wyrd-Wife, is much more about its central character than retelling the Beowulf story from a viewpoint other than the titular hero’s.
Along with her focus on the life of Grendel’s mother (which Morrison extends beyond the fight with Beowulf), Morrison has written her novel in a way that’s highly reminiscent of Beowulf‘s style. Morrison includes a great deal of alliteration, parataxis, and a few of the characteristic digressions that fill out the original poem. These last two elements are put to good use, I think, but the alliteration sometimes comes across as more comical and sing-song than Morrison may have intended. Nonetheless, her prose offers a great example of how modern novel prose can be crossed over with Old English usage and style. The care with which Morrison blends these two styles is just what I’d expect from a professor of English.
What do you think of people creating whole lives for side characters in old stories? Leave your thoughts in the comments!