Discussion Forums - Classic Literature

Topic: Classic Challenge - Epic

Club rule - Please, if you cannot be courteous and respectful, do not post in this forum.
  Unlock Forum posting with Annual Membership.
Subject: Classic Challenge - Epic
Date Posted: 4/18/2010 3:27 PM ET
Member Since: 8/13/2009
Posts: 298
Back To Top

For the epic challenge I chose to listen on audiobook to the Seamus Heaney translation of the Old English epic poem, Beowulf .  One benefit  I experienced by listening was the impression that I was as close to experiencing it in the oral tradition as might have been originally intended.   Scholars are divided whether it is a pagan oral poem transcribed during the early Christian era, or an original Christian-era poem.   But what struck me most about the poem was how modern it sounded, not unlike many a fantasy action-adventure novel we might read now with good, brave men; nearly indomitable mythic creatures; and plenty of fighting and blood and gore.  Grendel, his mother, and the dragon are ghastly, larger-than-life creatures that paralyze communities with fear.   Beowulf  is an outstanding warrior and has near-chilvalric qualities that place him above other men and make him a great leader.  He restores balance and normalcy to the land.     And for those who want to explore deeper meanings and themes, the poem has that to offer as well.  It's a fast read and  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Date Posted: 4/18/2010 3:58 PM ET
Member Since: 4/4/2009
Posts: 9,450
Back To Top

First person I ever heard of praising Beowulf for being a "fast read."

If you liked this one, amerigo, try John Gardner's Grendel. It is a fast read. That cat Grendel; now there was one BAMF. Fo Sho.

Date Posted: 4/18/2010 4:25 PM ET
Member Since: 3/27/2009
Posts: 25,000
Back To Top

Thanks amerigo. It's on my challenge list for December and I was a bit afraid of it. I have the Heaney version.

Date Posted: 4/18/2010 5:28 PM ET
Member Since: 9/14/2009
Posts: 611
Back To Top

I absolutely love Seamus Heaney's version of 'Beowulf''. I have read and reread it many times! Once you've read it,,,read Michael Crichton's 'Eaters of the Dead' and compare and contrast them. Interesting.

Date Posted: 6/6/2010 9:07 PM ET
Member Since: 7/22/2009
Posts: 2,617
Back To Top

I too read/listened to Heaney's translation of Beowulf. I was incredibly dismayed and irritated to find that the audio version was "unabridged selections." Really?? Why was it necessary to abridge a one-hundred page poem?? I don't want to read abridged books; I don't want to listen to abridged audios. Anyway, for the most part, I enjoyed the print version. Not having read Beowulf before, I was glad to finally do so. I thought most of the verse was very well done; a few sections seemed a bit clumsy -- as Amerigo indicated, more modern than I would have expected. Reading this motivated me to skim Tolkien's classic essay on Beowulf -- and I will indeed put Gardner's Grendel and Crichton's Eaters of the Dead on my TBR list.

Date Posted: 6/7/2010 2:32 PM ET
Member Since: 10/2/2007
Posts: 10,280
Back To Top

Years ago I read aloud Beowulf to my (at that time very young) sons, and I remember thinking it was not so difficult a read.  We decided to re-read it recently and we all stumbled over it as we read it aloud to each other.   I realized pretty quickly that the first reading must have been an abridged version - a great introduction to my young sons, but not quite what I was after this second time around.

Anyway, this time around we were reading Liuzza's translation and while it was pretty readable, our stumbling over it was very distracting - and I really didn't want to spend forever getting through it, so I looked for an audio version.  I found  this audio version (only in CD format) at our local library and the story came alive for us.  The reader's voice was perfect and I highly recommend it if reading the text becomes cumbersome.

My boys commented how much like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings stories this Beowulf sounded (not in story, but in the minuter details and certainly the style of battle - that sort of thing).  Then I remembered another reference one of them had made to Tolkien when we were reading some simpler Norse mythology many years ago.  Upon their very early observation I did some research and found that Tolkien was great fan of Norse mythology and was no doubt influenced by it.   I'm not especially drawn to Tolkien and would likely have never made the connection.  I think that's why I found it so exciting that my (then young) sons made the connection very quickly.



Last Edited on: 6/7/10 3:18 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 7/2/2010 10:31 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2009
Posts: 1,376
Back To Top

Just finished my epic selection: The Three Musketeers. Here are my thoughts, for what they're worth:

This was rough going. Though I have loved Dumas in the past (The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite novels of all time) I really struggled through the first 500+ pages of this 700 page book. The characters are caricatures, dashing and hot-tempered and filled with an utter disregard for human life -- including their own. They act with little to no motivation, running people through for slights and getting involved in court intrigue for no reason I can discover -- all of which would be fine and which I expected. What I did not expect was how idiotic they all are, petulant and whimsical and all in all no better equipped to exist in the world than a 3-year old.

The novel did finally pick up at the very end, when Dumas let Milady run away with it. All of a sudden it was sweeping and grand and romantic and tragic -- Milady is a character that very much deserves her own novel, and one in which the author (or the translator -- I was reading the Lord Sudley translation which I have heard is rather Victorian in its moral outlook) doesn't pause every scene with at least one diatribe about how she is evil incarnate and unwomanly (a sin he seems to find rather worse than the first). The final hundred pages I read breathlessly, the way I read all 1300 pages of The Count of Monte Cristo. I just wish I didn't have to wade through all the incomprehensible fluff that got me there.

Date Posted: 7/3/2010 5:19 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
Posts: 1,427
Back To Top

" unwomanly" !?

Date Posted: 7/3/2010 5:39 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2009
Posts: 1,376
Back To Top

Yep. The translator's exact word. Repeated over and over and over again, when Milady had the gall to try and manipulate her way out of a prison rather than sitting back and crying or fainting. (I didn't get any of that squickiness when I last read The Count of Monte Cristo, so I think I'm going to err on the side of blaming the translator for that. . .)

Date Posted: 7/4/2010 6:05 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
Posts: 1,427
Back To Top

Sometimes I am simply flabbergasted at the literary futility of trying to translate poetry and/or jokes from one language to another, too.

It's tricky enough just to render a prose work into another language, ain't it?

Date Posted: 7/11/2010 7:20 PM ET
Member Since: 5/31/2009
Posts: 2,881
Back To Top

Loved Amerigo's review of Beowulf.  My review of East of Eden will surely pale beside it.

"Timshel," thou mayest, sums this wonderful saga that follows three generations of the Trask and Hamilton families.   Carl Sandburg called it, "A moving, crying pageant, with wilderness strengths."  It is that and so much more.   Steinbeck does an outstanding job of writing about the families including the good and the bad, the strengths and weaknesses, their successes and their failures.  There are many bits of wisdom thrown into the tale.  "Timshel" is uttered by Adam Trask as he lies paralyzed by a stroke.  It was Samuel Hamilton's comment as well remembered so fondly by both Lee  and Adam when the three discussed the story of Abel and Cain.  Adam, Lee and Samuel are three of the most memorable characters.   Cathy is memorable, too, but for the evil that she fosters on those who encounter her.  Bits of wisdom come from Lee who observes that those who are good seem to reap little monetarily in life while those who are evil  gain riches.  The very humanness of the characters makes the book enjoyable.  They live and die, they love and hate, they lie and steal, they are just like us.  If you read this saga, grab a copy of Steinbeck's Journal of a Novel to read at the same time.  A  great story.



Last Edited on: 7/11/10 8:28 PM ET - Total times edited: 3
Date Posted: 7/11/2010 9:22 PM ET
Member Since: 4/4/2009
Posts: 9,450
Back To Top

"Unwomanly"   Come on ladies, don't  you have enough sense of huor to laugh loudly at that one, particulary since it is probably a very good translation of what was regarded as "womanly" at the time.

I don't even want tospeculate as to the paradigm of the time was for being "manly." I hope I would not qualify.

Date Posted: 7/15/2010 2:30 AM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2009
Posts: 1,376
Back To Top

I just couldn't make myself laugh at it, mostly because I was already rather hating the book and the one redeeming character was the one who I was constantly being told was "unwomanly" and therefore evil. But I don't think it was a fair translation. . . at least, from the bit of snooping around the internet I did it seems like the consensus is that most of the English-language translations suffered from being bogged down by Victorian sexual mores; had I done some research first I would have picked up the new translation, which I have heard is much more akin to a true French forthrightness on sexual matters rather than bowing to the British (especially mid-century and older British) prudishness. . .