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.
If you’re curious to find out more about Grendel’s Mother: The Saga of the Wyrd-Wife, check out the book’s website, or its page on Amazon.
What do you think of people creating whole lives for side characters in old stories? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
Though there are women in the poem Beowulf, they’re entirely on the sidelines. Wealhtheow, the queen of the Danes, has a few lines, but she’s quite tightly sewn into her diplomatic role of peaceweaver. Otherwise, women are mothers or sisters or daughters, and they generally have few to no lines of dialogue. And yet they’re present in the poem’s asides about morality and honour, but none of them take centre stage.
Donnita L. Rogers has changed the state of women in the world of Beowulf by writing a series of novels called The Women of Beowulf. This series tells a story that shares its setting with Beowulf but that follows a priestess named Freawearu.
A character with the same name appears in the poem, but she, like her mother Wealhtheow, is a peaceweaver, a daughter married to the son of a rival group’s leader in an effort to foster peace between the two groups. So the connection to Beowulf via Freawearu seems tenuous.
But Rogers isn’t writing an adaptation of the epic poem. Instead, she’s taking another look at the scenario of the poem and its setting through the lens of the powerful women active in it.
Though Rogers released the first book in this series, Faces in the Fire back in 2013 and wrapped it up in 2015, it could still prove an interesting read. You can find a full review of Donnita L. Rogers’ series here:
What do you think of the idea of using an old story’s setting and some of its characters to tell a new tale? Leave your thoughts in the comments!