Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Beowulf?

Geek Culture

This weekend, my wife and I went to see the Robert Zemeckis-directed, Neil Gaiman/Roger Avary-scripted Beowulf film. Needless to say, we didn’t bring the kid along.

But this got me thinking about ways to introduce the little guy to epic stories of ancient heroes. When I was a kid, I was all about Greek mythology, and I took my first baby steps through the lavishly illustrated pages of the glorious D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. What about something like that, but for Beowulf?

When the time comes to introduce our geeklet to the Greatest Geat (no, not Geek) of all, we’ll have some kid-friendly materials on hand:

  • Beowulf, by Gareth Hinds. For ages 9 and up. The illustrations are sketchier than most kids’ books, and might give some younger children nightmares. It’s not a bloodbath, but it doesn’t skimp on the action scenes. Grendel doesn’t lose his arm off-frame, if you catch my drift.
  • Beowulf, by Michael Morpurgo and Michael Foreman. For ages 8 and up. This version has more vivid, colorful illustrations. Some of the scenes depicted are too much for younger readers, but this is easily avoided by reading out-loud.
  • Grendel Grendel Grendel, with Peter Ustinov as the voice of Grendel! This one is a cartoon. Ages 6 and up should enjoy this one, though the ancient animation techniques may face some ridicule from the Pixar crowd. It’s not a direct adaptation of the poem, but it’s certainly quirky. Based on John Gardner’s Grendel novel, it tells the story through the eyes of the monster. The songs are a bit annoying, but at least it’s not Disney.

So, there you have it: three ways to introduce Old English oral tradition to your kids, only one of which will have the geeklets singing lame songs for the rest of the week.

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