WHOSE SONG IS SUNG by Frank Schaefer


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Visceral retelling of the Beowulf saga through the eyes of a dwarf: fast-paced action mixed with politically incorrect insights into Anglo-Saxon and Roman culture. Schaefer (The Scapeweed Goat, 1989) paints a Hieronymous Bosch-like portrait of the Western world at a fascinating juncture in history: the Roman Empire's final dissolution and the rise of the ""barbarian"" civilization of the Anglo-Saxons. The tale is told by Musculus the Dwarf, an elderly anchorite in a monastery ca. A.D. 695, putting paper to pen (as the book's archaic style would have it) to recount a life in which he appears, Zelig-like, at a number of critical events in history. First, he's Emperor Heraclius' crafty advisor in decadent Rome, a pampered sniffer-out of schemes and intrigues; then, sold into slavery among barbarians at the Emperor's death, he undergoes a series of tests--working as a galley slave, escaping death at the hands of murderous bandits, learning to survive like an animal in vast forests--until fate delivers him to the Geats and Beowulf. As he both witnesses and intervenes (a crucial suggestion about adding a keel to a Viking ship here, stabbing a monster in the back there), we see, smell, and recoil from the cruelty and brutality of the time even as we acquire a taste for blood vengeance and casual sex in the open mead-hall. Casting Beowulf as an Arnold Schwarzenegger obsessed with besting his own fears and childhood humiliations, the author shows how the Anglo-Saxon death-wish culture could seem, for all its vulgarity, like a breath of fresh air after the Roman decline. A bright retelling of a still-vital myth, highly readable if subject to the usual banalities of sword-and-shield dialogue. With this as a text, perhaps Hollywood could coax Arnold back into a loincloth for a last hurrah.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1996
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Tor