Weber Reads: Beowulf

beowulf titles

2007-2008

Modeled on the One Book, One Community project initiated by the Library of Congress, Weber Reads is designed to create a community-wide discussion by encouraging all area residents to read and join in conversations relating to the same exceptional book. Our first Weber Reads selection is Beowulf, chosen because it is the oldest existing work in the English language, and because it is a tale of adventure that can be read and enjoyed by people of all ages.

Beowulf was probably an oral poem that was eventually transcribed and has since been passed down in the form of the manuscript. Originally written down about 1,000 A. D., just one copy of Beowulf survived Henry VIII's disolution of the Catholic monasteries, and in 1731, this only surviving copy was damaged and almost lost in a fire. The original text was written in two different hands, the first stopping in mid-sentence, perhaps as a result of the death of the scribe; then a second person picked up the pen and completed the manuscript.

Translations from the original Old English into modern language editions have been a labor of love for numerous scholars, not all of whom agree on the reconstruction of the portions of text damaged in the fire. But what is unarguably clear is that Beowulf is based upon a collection of folktales, depicting ferocious battles with monsters and dragons and oral histories of the reigns of both good and bad kings, some of whom were served by warriors who conducted themselves with honor, and others who met their demise at the hands of disloyal thanes. These stories were told and retold for hundreds of years at community gatherings long before they were first written down.

Today's reader will find that Beowulf is more than a fast-paced adventure story. This epic foundation of English literature also presents a unique historical account of early medieval life, explaining the codes of conduct by which competing tribes lived. In so doing, the tale explores the nature of humanity, the creation and maintenance of society, the power of individuals, and the relationship between God and creation. Readers of Beowulf will find literary seeds of Arthurian legends, J.R.R. Tolkien's Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy, and even the Harry Potter series.

Beowulf is a fitting first read that will draw us into meaningful conversations as we gather throughout our County to ponder and discuss parallels found in our own time and in our own community.