The Abridged Version of Beowulf: Analysis
The epic poem Beowulf has many themes that relate to today. The theme of good versus evil connects to the theme of light versus darkness, which are both shown in different parts of the poem. Beowulf also shows examples of the culture that the Danes and the Geats followed, such as their love for treasure. These various aspects are mingled into the abridged version. Themes and cultural aspects derived from Beowulf are used to create a relevant artistic piece relating to the poem.
The abridged version of Beowulf has a black cover with gold backing and lining. The gold lining symbolizes the love of treasure and gold of the Anglo-Saxons. Most of the epic talks about kings being “ring giving lords” (Prologue: 35) and sharing their treasure with their loyal thanes. Beowulf’s funeral pyre is loaded “with helmets, and battle/ Shields, and shining mail shirts” (3138-3139). The gold ribbon also depicts the desire these people have for treasure. The contrast between the black cover and gold lining shows the theme of light and darkness in the poem Beowulf. During the first part of the poem, the monster Grendel portrays the theme of darkness over the mead hall, Herot, a symbol of light. Intertwined with the theme of light and dark comes the theme of good and evil. This theme is shown very strongly through out this poem. God is good while the monsters Beowulf face in battle all represents evil. Beowulf is about to face Grendel’s mother and swims to her underwater lair. Beowulf sees that “a brilliant/ Light burns all around him” (22: 1515-1516), which shows the theme of light as good and darkness as evil. God is the light that Beowulf sees and Grendel’s mother is the darkness that is fighting to overcome the light, but failing. The cultural aspect of the importance of gold and treasure in this society is shown through the use of gold contrasting to black, while the themes of good versus evil and light against darkness also reflect in the use of these opposite colors.
In the abridged interpretation of the poem Beowulf, there are more pictures than descriptive words. The main idea for these pictures is to connect the past with the present. An example of this is the image of Herot, the mead hall in Denmark, on pages two and four. The mead hall is a very large building, but it is also a very famous one. The Louvre Pyramid Museum in Paris, France stands as the socializing hall in this poem. This pyramid’s regular, bustling background was cut from the originally taken picture and a grassy landscape with sky is put in the background. Another example of where the past meets the present is on pages six and nine. In Washington D.C. there is a large statue of a hand. This hand is used in the abridged version of Beowulf as Grendel’s claw. The grasping hand depicts Grendel’s greed for killing as he shapes Herot to his own liking. Page thirteen has a photograph of a boat in Paris on the river Seine. Lots of painting over occurred to make the French dock and roads disappear from around the river and erasing modern looking people is necessary to make the boat look like that of the hero, Beowulf. The boat is supposed to imply that the greatest heroes are the ones with simplicity in mind. For example, Beowulf’s plan of killing Grendel with his bare hands instead of using weapons was a simple one that helped Beowulf triumph over evil. The idea of the modern world being incorporated into the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf made this artistic piece have a more creative relevance to the story.
The theme of good and light versus evil and darkness is portrayed in another way in the artistic approach to this epic poem. The first photograph in the book was taken in England, and it is of a backyard in the suburbs. The bottom half of the picture is fallen into shadow while the top part is lit up by the sun. This symbolizes the light and darkness of the poem. There are also sheep in the picture, but only their backs are visible because they are running away from the shade. The fact that the innocent animals are moving toward the sunlight shows that they are going toward the good of God and keeping away from the evil of the monsters in Beowulf. Darkness appears on page ten, the photograph of the cave by the water. The cave, where Grendel’s mother is assumed to be, is pitch black and there is smoke or steam rising from the water. This symbolizes the struggle of evil and darkness against God and His light. The smoke is trying to block the light but is unsuccessful. It is obvious that light is triumphing because the viewer is able to figure out what the image is. The illustration of the dragon’s castle on page fifteen is also a representation of these two themes. The picture does not have a definite light or dark theme, but is rather in between the two. The sky is cloudy and grey, reflecting that what lies ahead is unknown, and the fight between good and evil is still undecided. The next page also has an unknown winner between light and darkness. This is where Beowulf is finally confronting the dragon to save his people. The edges of the picture are dark and the source of light is radiating from under the dragon’s jaw. Both images are thrown into shadow but have touches of golden light on them. The outcome of the match is presumed to be unclear because of the amount of dark and light on both the dragon and Beowulf.
There are two pictures in the abridged version of Beowulf that have a deeper meaning than what they seem to symbolize. On page six, Grendel’s claw is the main focus of the image, but bordering the bottom are bright and angry flames. The flames symbolize many themes in the epic Beowulf. Firstly, the flames show the contrast between light and darkness. The fire is very bright, symbolizing the light and the shadow that Grendel’s claw is in shows darkness. The interesting thing about this picture is that both images depicting light and darkness stand for evil, neither for good. This symbolizes Grendel’s association with hell and the damage he can cause. Flames also frame the bottom of the picture on page fourteen. This image is of the jeweled cup that is stolen from the greedy dragon’s hoard. The first thought when seeing this image is that the fire indicates the dragon’s fire, but there is also a hidden message. The dragon is a very greedy monster, storing his treasure away for nobody else to see. Greed is also one of the seven deadly sins and the flames denote that this is a sin from hell. The angry flames bordering the images on pages six and fourteen in the abridged version of the epic, illustrate that there are many layers of meaning relating towards themes in Beowulf.
Most of the word choice in the abridged version of the poem is drawn from the original epic. One epithet taken from the poem is “ring giving.” This epithet is used often in Beowulf to describe Hrothgar, King of the Danes, and other generous leaders. The similar writing styles between these two stories make the abridged book feel as if it related closely to the original poem. On page three of the children’s version, the description of what Grendel is waiting for is “night’s shadowy cloak.” In the epic, there are many descriptions and personified elements to weave the story more cohesively for the audience, so the abridged version tries to capture the essence of this. A few citations are included with a grade school reading level style of writing. The quotes from Beowulf provide younger audiences with a taste of the real poem. On page four of the abridged version, a quote from the original epic is used: “when darkness had dropped” (2:115). If younger readers do not fully understand this saying, the picture underneath the words shows the Louvre pyramid as Herot and a night sky, with Grendel creeping towards it. It helps people to understand writing styles when there are images to supplement the descriptions. Page six describes Grendel and his “hell-forged hands” (2:149), representing that Grendel is evil. Quotes from Beowulf provide younger readers with a taste of what the real poem is like. The writing styles from the epic and the abridged version of Beowulf both relate to each other and lace the original plot together for all ages.
The abridged version of Beowulf has many themes relating to modern life and touches on the culture described in the original epic. The theme of light and good versus darkness and evil is shown continually throughout the poem; the abridged book uses photographs, writing styles, and even the cover to relate this theme during the story. The artistic approach of using modern pictures in a 6th century set poem helps to relate that themes and cultural values are still being used today. The abridged version is a closely accurate story of the epic Beowulf for a younger audience who can still grasp certain elements from the original poem.
Beowulf. Trans. Burton Raffel. New York: Penguin Group, 1963.