Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Beowulf for boys (and girls)

Hear, and listen well, my friends, and I will tell you a tale that has been told for a thousand years and more. It may be an old story, yet, as you will discover, it troubles and terrifies us now as much as ever it did our ancestors....

So roll back the years now, back to the fifth century after the birth of Christ, and come with me over the sea to the Norse lands we now know as Sweden and Norway and Denmark, to the ancient Viking lands of the Danes and the Geats, the Angles and the Jutes. This will be our here and now, as this tale of courage and cruelty unfolds, as brave Beowulf battles with the forces of darkness, first with that foul fiend Grendel, then with his sea-hag of a mother, and last of all, with the death-dragon of the deep.
The thundering, measured syllables rolled off my tongue as I read to my 9-year-old daughter.

Here's a book to add to your list of adventure story for young boys to inspire noble qualities like courage and kindness. It's a retelling of the saga of Beowulf by Michael Morpurgo, suitable for ages 5-12, depending on interest and maturity.

Morgurgo tells the legend of Beowulf with verve and flair, in the rolling, alliterative style of Old English saga, satisfyingly adapted for children. The pictures and stories are vivid and blood-thirsty enough to hold the attention of the most adventure-hungry boy or girl.

The story is filled with noble qualities: the "kindness and generosity" of that "wise guardian," king Hrothgar; the "strength, courage and firm purpose" of "brave Beowulf," the "enemy of evil;" the valour and trustworthiness of his thanes, faithful followers and companions.

Hints of Christian truth are subtly and skillfully scattered throughout the pages. A poet sings of God's "good creation" which the demonic Grendal seeks to destroy. Warriors pray for God's help before battle, and place their fate in his sovereign hands. Death is faced in confident expectation of the judgement of God which follows. The king warns the victorious Beowulf to refuse pride in his own powers, and to humbly receive victory as God's gift.

In the picture where Beowulf finally lies dead against the "death-dealing dragon" he has killed on behalf of his people, his mighty sword casts the shadow of a cross on the wall.

This is a ripper of a read, and a teaching book too! Don't miss it.

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