‘BEOWULF: A NEW TRANSLATION’ IS A NEW, FEMINIST TRANSLATION OF BEOWULF BY THE AUTHOR OF THE MUCH-BUZZED-ABOUT NOVEL ‘THE MERE WIFE’.
Nearly 20 years after Seamus Heaney’s translation of ‘Beowulf’ – and 50 years after the translation that continues to torment high-school students around the world – there is a radical new verse translation of the epic poem by Maria Dahvana Headley that brings to light elements that have never before been translated into English, re-contextualizing the binary narrative of monsters and heroes into a tale in which the two categories often entwine, justice is rarely served, and dragons live among us.
A man seeks to prove himself as a hero. A monster seeks silence in his territory. A warrior seeks to avenge her murdered son. A dragon ends it all. The familiar elements of the epic poem are seen with a novelist’s eye toward gender, genre, and history – ‘Beowulf’ has always been a tale of entitlement and encroachment, powerful men seeking to become more powerful, and one woman seeking justice for her child, but this version brings new context to an old story. While crafting her contemporary adaptation of ‘Beowulf’, Headley unearthed significant shifts lost over centuries of translation.
Maria Dahvana Headley’s long-awaited (hey, she made an adorable Grim in the middle, so we’ll accept the wait) translation of Beowulf has arrived.
It might sound weird to say a translation of an Old English poem is “bouncy” but it is. It has a very jaunty, devil-may-care feel to it since Maria mixed older words like “scop”, descriptive terms like “opened his word-hoard” (which is such a great way to set up a long speech), and of-the-minute soundbites like “hashtag: blessed” (got a zing off that one because it nails the rhythm of the line and gives it an ironic cast). Even the choice of “Bro!” as the opening “Whaet” (or however we represent that Old English term that doesn’t have a direct translation to modern English) makes me think of a bunch of dudes sitting around drinking and someone goes “Bruuuuhhhh, tell me about that time Chet went snowboarding naked” (or whatever Chets do). So fun.
The introduction really sets up Maria’s attitude toward this translation and why she made the choices she did. And while you don’t have to be familiar with other translations of Beowulf, if you’ve read the Heaney or, especially, the Tolkein translation you can really see where this new translation is finding new ground. It’s very similar to Emily Wilson’s introduction to The Odyssey which also brought new facets to an old classic.
Beowulf: A New Translation published on Tuesday, August 25!
Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.