BEYOND BEOWULF by Christopher L. Webber


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An ambitious sequel to one of the canon’s greatest epics.

Likening his first foray into epic poetry as what “the Odyssey, we might say, is to the Iliad,” liturgical author (A User’s Guide to the Book of Common Prayer, 2005) and Episcopal priest Webber introduces his saga with a boast worthy of the heroic subject. The author picks up where Beowulf leaves off: namely, in the wake of the warrior’s triumphant victories over Grendel and the dragon. The story now turns to a society redefining itself without its hero; the Geats anxiously look to the future, fearing that enemies once held at bay by their heroic leader’s mere existence will soon capitalize on their vulnerability. Only two of the original characters survive in the sequel: Beowulf, by reputation alone, and Wiglaf, a distant relative who was the sole warrior brave enough to stand with him in his mortal combat with the dragon. Wiglaf somewhat reluctantly becomes the Geats’ new leader and faces many of the same issues challenging modern leaders–most notably, whether to preempt possible attacks by striking first, or to attempt a peaceful coexistence. The pacifistic Wiglaf opts for the latter, thus spurring the Geats’ mass migration from Scandinavia to Britain, but not before encountering numerous confrontations, some with the more warlike in his clan who claim that “ ‘peace has poisoned [them].’ ” The plot is believable, the themes compelling (if a bit didactic) and the author’s attention to the structural dimensions of the original poem–limiting the number of metrical stresses per line; frequent alliteration–admirable.

Provocative and entertaining: a thoughtful addition to this timeless tale.

Pub Date: Jan. 16th, 2006
ISBN: 0-595-37358-5
Program: Kirkus Indie
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