Beowulf by Gareth Hinds

Hinds, Gareth. 2007. Beowulf. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763630233.

Plot Summary:
Beowulf is set in a kingdom during the “the days of old” in Denmark. The battles the book depicts in both text and illustration will draw the reader in because of the marvelous and seemingly impossible feats Beowulf faces. The book has three “books” inside of it all of quests and obstacles for great Beowulf to face and overcome. For twelve winters the villain, Grendel, ruled a banquet hall and devoured any trespassers until Beowulf wounds him in battle. Grendel hides and knows his days are numbered until Beowulf chops off his head and presents it to the king. Later Beowulf faces another villain and is fatally wounded in his attempt to save the people.

Critical Analysis:
Beowulf is the main character in the book and although it is an ancient tale, the readers adore him and cheer for him because he is a hero like many heroes we celebrate today. Beowulf is a man who is almost super man in his abilities to defeat evil and his fearlessness in battle. While the story is obviously fantasy and the villain is a monster, its similarities to modern heroic tales make it easily identifiable for readers. Like many similar tales of heroism, it is a classic story of good prevailing over evil. However, in the last part where Beowulf battles The Worm, which appears to be more of a dragon or serpent, he is fatally wounded and in a sense sacrifices himself to protect the people. For any readers who have seen the most recent Batman trilogy movies by Christopher Nolan they will recognize this, respect it, but unfortunately may not like it.

What I liked best about this book is the style in which it was written. I read Beowulf in high school and didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I enjoyed this version as a graphic novel. Additionally, this book was a much quicker reader than any other version of Beowulf I’ve heard of. For reluctant readers, that makes this version a dream come true. The author’s note at the beginning states, “This is a colloquial translation, and we have attempted to strike a balance between easy readability and the poetic drama found in our favorite verse translations.” While this book still uses terminology like “thou” or “thee” it is easy to follow and understand.

I know teachers seem to love this epic tale, but not me. Ever since a high school ELA teacher of mine obsessed over it years ago, I have been turned off to it. While I certainly enjoyed this version more than any other I’ve been exposed to, it was still Beowulf and it was still not for me. However, I am certainly a proponent of graphic novels as they seem to open up some literature to groups who would otherwise be disinterested. So if you’re a teacher who is thinking of reading Beowulf, perhaps you should consider this option for your reluctant reader students.

Review Excerpts:
No awards were found for this title.

“The book makes a gorgeous whole…the long, wordless battles reproduced on glossy, high-quality paper are particularly noteworthy…. This offering will have high appeal for many, particularly fans of video games and action movies.” – Booklist

 “This epic tale is exceptionally well suited to the episodic telling necessary for a successful graphic novel….Hinds’s version will make this epic story available to a whole new group of readers.” – School Library Journal

“A first-rate horror yarn… Hinds stages great fight scenes, choreographing them like a kung-fu master.”  – The New York Times Book Review

“Gives young readers the Geatish warrior as the hypermuscular, hard-hitting proto-comic-book superhero he’s always been… With treatments like this available, honors English may never be the same.” – Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Retells the old tale as a series of dark, bloody, chaotic clashes… A strongly atmospheric alternative.” – Kirkus Reviews

“The epic tale of the great warrior Beowulf has thrilled readers through the ages — and now it is reinvented for a new generation with Gareth Hinds’s masterful illustrations. Grendel’s black blood runs thick as Beowulf defeats the monster and his hideous mother, while somber hues overcast the hero’s final, fatal battle against a raging dragon. Speeches filled with courage and sadness, lightning-paced contests of muscle and will, and funeral boats burning on the fjords are all rendered in glorious and gruesome detail. Told for more than a thousand years, Beowulf’s heroic saga finds a true home in this graphic-novel edition.” – Goodreads

“The book follows a poetic approach rather than using prose and at first glance the text may not seem to be directly linked to the images around it. On careful inspection though, the reader finds that the images tell a story by themselves, often times embellishing details that the poetic text glosses over; the details of battle, for instance.” –

It is suggested that this version of Beowulf will appeal to a whole new group of readers. In a high school ELA class that reads Beowulf, the teacher may allow the students to read the version of his or her choice. Because Beowulf is an epic poem with no known original author, there are a variety of formats available to readers. By giving the students a choice, the teacher opens the door to differentiated instruction, and makes the content accessible to a wider range of students. Additionally, when reading another epic poem or classic, the teacher may have the students rewrite the story into a graphic novel like Beowulf.

Beowulf’s publisher, Candlewick Press, also provides a number of resources for teachers related to this book. These can be found at:

Other graphic novels by Gareth Hinds:
King Lear (978-0-7636-4343-0)
The Merchant of Venice (978-0-7636-3024-9)
The Odyssey (978-0-7636-4266-2)


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