Monday, September 5, 2011

Beowulf trans. by Francis B. Gummere

Source: Lit2Go (iTunes U)
Length: Approx. 2.5 hours
Reader: Rick Kistner

The book: Beowulf has within it exciting battles, tales of classic battles between good and evil, and insight into a way of life that is alien to our modern world. Sadly, these great qualities are buried in this difficult to understand translation. Gummere's work was published in 1910, but he chose to use archaic words apparently to evoke the old-time feel of the King James Bible.  Listening with modern ears, the words throw up a barrier to understanding, rather than making the meaning clear and the story enjoyable.

Yet, underneath the cumbersome translation, the story still shines. Beowulf's insanely brave choice to pursue Grendel to his mother's lair made me shake my head with admiration. A light bulb went off when I recognized the theft of a goblet from the dragon's lair as the inspiration for the same scene in The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. If I could only get around the awkward phrasings and archaic words, I think I would have enjoyed this classic. This is the only translation that is available in free audio that I could find, but it may be worth it to pay for a more enjoyable version.

Rating: 6 /10

The reader: Usually, I find Lit2Go's recordings to range from okay to good, but this one falls short. Kistner reads much too fast for such a complex poem. His rhythm lacks the flow of well-read poetry but is too artificial to pass as prose. In the past, I've enjoyed Kistner's readings of The Jungle and Crime and Punishment, but this one ranks below his usual work.

(entered in Cym Lowell's Book Review Party Wednesday. Follow the link for more reviews of other books)


Anony Mouse said...

Oddly enough, my very first English assignment involves reading an extract of Beowulf. :P Always one to overcomplicate things, I have the Librivox audiobook in my bookmarks, ready to download. ^^

Listener said...

The Librivox reading is the same translation. You may want to try a different one.