‘Beowulf: A New Translation,’ By Maria Dahvana Headly : NPR / review written by Jason Sheehan

“This new translation of the ancient epic poem drags it kicking and screaming into the 21st century, giving us tales of blood, guts and glory told as if over beers in a loud sports bar.”

(Image credit: MCD x FSG Originals)

Headley’s Beowulf is a big release — discussed, debated, talked about (as it should be) because it has everything: Love, sex, murder, magic, dungeons, dragons, giants, monsters. It spills blood by the bucket and gore by the gallon, makes heroes, slays villains and serves as an instruction manual for toxic masculinity, circa 700 AD. Bro! Tell me we still know how to talk about kings! In the old days, everyone knew what men were: brave, bold, glory-bound. Only stories now, but I’ll sound the Spear-Danes’ song, hoarded for hungry times. Yeah, she starts it all with “Bro.” Bro. Bro! I mean, that’s ridiculous. And brilliant. And genius-level washed-up barstool-hero trolling all at the same time. “Bro” to take the place of Behold! and Lo! and What ho! because Behold! and Lo! and (especially) What ho! are all silly and stilted and stupid and do not — not a single one of them — have the social heft and emotional dwarfism and Bud Light swagger of “Bro,” because “Bro” is the braggart’s call, the throat-clearing of someone who wasn’t, you know, there, but heard about it from some dude who totally was. …

…So Headley’s version (translation? transcription?) is just as real and twice as vital right now as any other. It sings straight through, the alliteration and temper of it invigorating (as it should be) and roaring (as it should be), like Beowulf, introducing himself to Hrothgar:

I’m the strongest and the boldest,

and the bravest and the best.

Yes: I mean — I may have bathed in

the blood of beasts,

netted five foul ogres at once,

smashed my way into a troll den

and come out swinging, gone

skinny-dipping in a sleeping sea

and made sashimi of some sea monsters.

Anyone who f***s with the Geats? Bro,

they have to f*** with me.

It rolls. It demands to be spoken, to be shouted and spat. To be taught as the thing that it is — the Marvel movie of its time.

I always liked Beowulf a little for what it was: history, foundational myth, epic poem of swords and dragons, source material for paintings on the sides of vans. But Maria Headley’s Beowulf I love for exactly what it is: a psychotic song of gold and blood, stylish as hell, nasty and brutish and funny all at once, mad and bad and sad and alive now in a way that these words simply haven’t been for more than a thousand years.

Review: ‘Beowulf: A New Translation,’ By Maria Dahvana Headly : NPR

Review written by Jason Sheehan knows stuff about food, video games, books and Starblazers. He is currently the restaurant critic at Philadelphia magazine, but when no one is looking, he spends his time writing books about giant robots and ray guns. Tales From the Radiation Age is his latest book.

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