Beowulf by Michael Morpurgo
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|Beowulf by Michael Morpurgo|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Told with drama and grandeur and illustrated with vigour and mysticism, this latest version of the Beowulf story for children will become a classic, more than worthy of its predecessors. Suitable for the littlest of little ones right up to teenagers, it would make a wonderful gift.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 96||Date: November 2006|
|Publisher: Walker Books Ltd|
Beowulf is the oldest surviving Old English poem. It was told by the wave of Anglo Saxons who settled in England during the dark ages and was first written down some time around the end of the first millennium AD. It tells the story of a Geatish hero, Beowulf, and his battles against the monster, Grendel, the sea hag that was Grendel's mother and, the hardest battle of all, against a giant, treasure-hoarding dragon. The manuscript was first used largely by historians, searching for clues about life in those times, but a landmark essay by Tolkein in the 1930s brought it firmly into the literary realm. Elements of the tale can be seen all over The Lord of the Rings. Since then, it has been retold many times, by many great authors.
This is Michael Morpurgo's version. It is a triumph. There is something quite wonderful about telling a story that has been told for almost fifteen hundred years. From its very beginning, Morpurgo's tale breathes that wonder. It is full of grandeur and passion and high drama, breathing new life into the oldest story known to the English. Morpurgo takes the role of storyteller and his tale of this Geatish hero and his battles against monsters grabbed everybody's attention hereabouts. My sons listened as I read, then read it alone. My husband spent a happy hour or two caught up in it. We felt as though we were part of a very long tradition, and indeed we were. Every element of the original is perfectly realised in a tale that seems old, but not old-fashioned, heroic, but still relevant.
Beowulf is lavishly illustrated. The artist, Michael Foreman is, as ever, right on the button. His vision is strong and powerful, yet retains an ethereal quality which allows a child's imagination full rein. The colours are bold and the emotions are high but the whole feel is an otherworldy one. The atmosphere is one of high drama and passion but there is nothing to threaten a sensitive little one. Rather, the effect is inspiring.
I did find the omission of a postscript with some background on the poem a little disappointing. The first thing my son said when we'd finished reading was, "Where were all the gods?" I was able to explain that the Beowulf story was probably based on real people who were almost certainly pagan, but had only been written down by a Christian monk after several hundred years of oral retellings and that it was likely the monk had inserted the monotheistic elements. But not every parent will know this. The story of Beowulf appeals to wide range of children and I think the older ones, like my son, would benefit from some background. It's a minor fault, but I do think it's a shame as Morpurgo has such a knack of explaining the whys and wherefores of his stories. I wish he'd done it here.
Beowulf is about fulfilling one's destiny and about always trying to be the best that one can possibly be. It is also about love and loyalty and doing the right thing. It's a fantastic story and it's also a valuable part of our heritage. I think every generation of children should know about it. Michael Morpurgo's version has captured all the elements and will sit on library shelves as a worthy companion to those also for children from Kevin Crossley-Holland and Rosemary Sutcliffe. I'm removing one half of a Bookbag star for the lack of authorial explanation on the source poem, but I feel guilty for doing it.
Thanks to the publisher, Walker, for sending me such a wonderful book.
Another artistic picture book to be enjoyed by children and adults of all ages is Kathy Jakobsen's take on Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land. You might also like to take a look at Grendel by John Gardner and Storm Weaver by Matt Griffin.
Beowulf by Michael Morpurgo is in the Top Ten Retellings of Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Beowulf by Michael Morpurgo at Amazon.com.
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