Beowulf and the dragon image August 21

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Beowulf book club discussion questions

Please be aware that our book club discussion questions contain spoilers.

Synopsis

An epic poem wherein the eponymous hero fights three battles against monsters, rising in stature then falling, through his personal prowess. Beowulf was written, perhaps, in the Eighth Century and is one of the taproots of modern fantasy literature

Discussion questions

  • Did your translation use the modern poetic style, where the ends of the lines rhyme, or the Anglo-Saxon style, where the words begin with the same sounds? Did this alter your way of reading the text? Did this change your level of enjoyment?
  • In the animated film adaption, Grendel’s mother is markedly different. How does this tie together the battles? What does it say about the future of the kingdom?
  • After the battle with Grendel’s Mother, Hrothgar delivers a lengthy piece of advice to Beowulf. This is commonly called his “sermon”. Is this, for you, an effective piece of the book? Does it foreshadow the third battle, or just slow down the pace of the plot? Is the advice good, or trite?
  • Swords are surprisingly ineffective in this story. When do weapons break or fail, and what does this mean?
  • Beowulf is the first description of a dragonslayer in English literature. His dragon is the oldest to have the modern European shape and fiery breath. Try to imagine the dragon not as a trope you have seen so many times since: what do the different elements of the creature represent?
  • Why does the hero not kill the dragon?
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, who was a Beowulf scholar, said that the poem’s literary merit had been obscured by people attempting to dissect what it said about the time period in which it was written. If you enjoyed the poem primarily as a narrative when you read it, can you analyse it as a social history? If you enjoyed it primarily as a historical artifact when you read it, what do you think of the narrative?
  • Most modern stories end at the high point in the life of the characters: happily ever after. Older stories, like Beowulf and Le Morte d’Arthur, end with the character’s death. What causes this difference?

Helpful links

  • library catalog. There are so many variants of Beowulf that it can be difficult to find a particular one. Perhaps the best known is that by Seamus Heaney which is in the Norton Anthology of English Literature. If placing a hold, be sure to look for the older edition, which is in our circulating collection, and not the newer, which is in reference. If you don’t know which edition you want, try Heaney. This edition also includes CDs of the authors and translators performing their works. If you’d prefer to just jump in, Daily Motion site where you can listen to Heaney perform his translation.
  • Wikipedia article
  • Goodreads reviews
  • Free audiobook
  • Free ebook