Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Absolutely splendid. Visceral, chilling, elegiac."
- customer Chris Gardiner.
Chris Gardiner is something of a Beowulf buff. He's read the original, come across countless adaptations and this is one of his absolute favourites. Its impact on him was immediate and arresting.
The dragon he called "incandescent" (and it seriously is in a purplish, painted, black-and-white double-page spread that almost sets the paper on fire), and the brutish confrontation between Beowulf and an obsidian Grendel - all muscle, sinew, claws, teeth and wet, globular hair - is a shocking affair after such formal rhetoric. It's bone-cracking, beam-breaking, bludgeoning stuff from a decade or so ago which would have superhero fans wetting themselves if they cared to look this way, as would BEOWULF by Garcia & Rubin published last month.
There are three such confrontations as the pages go suddenly silent letting the images roar and bellow for themselves, and my one reservation about this entire adaptation was whether that silence robbed us of some of the best language. "No," replied Chris, "I can read the original for that." He's right, for Hinds has considered his medium - and timing - very carefully.
The ancient legend of Beowulf's first known manuscript after centuries of oral tradition is dated around 1000 AD. In it King Hrothgar builds a banquet hall full of good cheer and revelry until it's invaded by Grendel, a moor-dwelling man-beast capable of cleaving a man's head from his body with naught but his black, bare hands. No matter how well armed are King Hrothgar's men, by morning they are no more than bloody, mashed pulps and so for twelve long years the hall goes empty, the heroic King Hrothgar exiled from the heart of his own Danish dominion.
Then arrives Beowulf from a neighbouring territory, announcing his presence with due deference to the mighty Hrothgar but also a determination to rid him of this pestilence. For he has heard word of the accursed Grendel and, if he be so permitted, he would rout the abomination forever. Single-handedly, with neither arms nor armour, he prepares himself for the predatory Grendel to embark on his nocturnal assault. He is committed.
What may surprise those unaccustomed to the original (if you can call any one such) is that this is but the beginning, for Beowulf has an entire life of such challenges ahead of him. He has a kingdom of his own to rule, and threats there too which he must stave off. Even in old age, far past the peak of his physical prowess, a final battle awaits him.
One of the things I love most about Hinds is that he employs a completely different style for each book he works on. His riff on Homer's THE ODYSSEY, for example, I described as "A summer sunshine joy, brought to watercolour light and rammed to its bucolic pens with so many of your favourite mythological beasts and best-avoided landmarks". Similarly within this single book with its muted palette - emphasising firstly the centrality of wood to the Vikings' everyday existence (see Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell's ODD AND THER FROST GIANTS) then the platinum hues of iron as the armour returns - there's a startling demarcation between the sequences set in Beowulf's youth elsewhere and his old age in his own kingdom.
Unlike Garcia & Rubin's BEOWULF which we adore in its own right, you can buy this for your entire family so long as they're happy with the obligatory severed appendages inherent to the tale.