A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a graphic novel treatment of the classic tale Beowulf, an epic poem of Old English literature, set in 6th century Scandinavia. It's about the heroic Beowulf, who comes from what is now Sweden to help the king of the Danes by slaying a monster named Grendel. This version of the story may appeal to video game-loving teens and fans of the 2007 movie adaptation. Pictures do depict bloody battles, including dismemberment. It's pretty gruesome -- and definitely a better fit for mature tweens and teens. Readers may impressed by the author's work to translate this classic work to a new medium. They may be inspired to search for other graphic novel treatments of the classic story, of which there are many.
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What's the story?
The Danish king, Hrothgar, builds a great feasting hall called Heorot. But soon it's attacked by Grendel, a monster from a nearby swamp, who kills anyone he finds within at night. Many heroes try to fight him, and give their lives in the struggle. Over the sea comes Beowulf. Having heard of the monster, he's eager to test himself. After a great battle, Beowulf defeats Grendel, tearing the monster's arm off in the process. But Grendel's troll mother, more terrible even than Grendel, swears revenge. To fight her, Beowulf must follow her to an underwater cave.
Is it any good?
BEOWULF is a grim and gruesome story, and artist Gareth Hinds has produced a graphic novel to match. He does a fine job with the text, adapted from A. J. Church's translation, and his draftsmanship is exemplary. But while Hinds draws the gore with crystal clarity, he's less clear about the sequence of events. There are pages, usually fight scenes with no text, where it's difficult, if not impossible, for the reader to tell exactly what is happening, and in what order. The frames are not sequential, and the action is sometimes muddy.
It's a frustrating flaw in this otherwise spectacular graphic novel version of a classic story. A visceral yet accessible treatment, this is clearly meant to appeal to video game-loving teens and fans of the November 2007 Beowulf movie starring Angelina Jolie and Anthony Hopkins.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the history of the Beowulf story itself. Why has it endured so long? What does it tell us about the culture from which it sprang? How is it similar to modern hero and superhero tales?
What do you think of the violence here, which includes gory, bloody, hand-to-hand combat, with severed limbs and heads? Does the fantasy context make it easier to handle -- or does it remain disturbing?
What other graphic novels based on classic stories have you read? Which are your favorites?
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