Thursday, September 24, 2009

Beowulf by Gareth Hinds

This assignment was my very first experience with graphic novels, so I wanted to choose something that was a little bit familiar to me. Having heard of the movie and the long standing poetic tradition of Beowulf, I chose it to read. The first thing that surprised me here was that it only took about ten minutes to read all the words in it. I was pleasantly surprised by this, because although I have never read any, I have flipped through some Manga before and found the all the text and pictures to be chaotic and overwhelming. In Beowulf I was able to read the text and then spend longer studying the pictures- not that the text wasn't rich and thought provoking. I guess what I am trying to say is that the text added to the pictures, it didn't take away, they complimented each other nicely. The other thing that came to mind for this graphic novel in particular seemed to me to be a sort of Beowulf spark notes. I say this because it seems to me that the author took the highlights and most important parts from the poem and put them together, adapted them if you will. The other reason I say this is because, I don't know if you have ever read or looked at the epic poem of Beowulf, but it really is epic. The actual poem is broken into 42 episodes that are each lengthy, and this graphic novel, is well pretty short by comparison. Another thought on this though, is that what isn't said in words or was left out, very often gets described in the pictures instead of the words.

Having an art focus and being someone who is very connected with art, I could really appreciate the illustrations. In fact, I appreciate them so much that calling them illustrations doesn't feel right to me. It feels at though there should be a new word for all the detail and the epic, sweeping nature of the drawings in this graphic novel. Okay, this is going to sound gruesome, but actually one of my favorite things that the author/illustrator did was that when there were fight scenes and blood needed to be conveyed, there is a huge ink smudge. It looks like someone took a fountain pen and shook it all over the page. I couldn't tell you really why this appealed to me for sure, but I feel that it has a lot to do with the movement that it creates through the battle scenes. Also, it adds to the emotion of the scene. Actually seeing this big, chaotic blotch on the page makes you feel a little chaotic. It's a little like how in a slasher flick, when the masked creeper with the axe chops someones head off there is way more blood than there ought to be. It isn't realistic but it creates a mood. On to a lighter note...I loved the detail of the drawings and how they were lyrical in their movement. Possibly one of my favorite things about the book in general though, was how in a fight scene, there are no words except for SMASH or CRUNCH or PLOP. It really amused me to have these seemingly light words in the midst of all that gore and it reminded me a little of old Batman cartoons which were a bit silly.

As for an audience for this book, I would be careful. The suggestion on the inside cover says ages ten and up, but I am not sure. I might suggest this for students 12 and up just because there are a lot of images that might be scary. The image of the monster Grendel kinda creeped me out and I am twenty years old. In addition, the pictures are a bit gory and grotesque at times. Another way that I looked at this was that the movie Beowulf, which also follows the poem, is rated pg-13 for intense sequences of violence including disturbing images. I feel like if your students wouldn't be allowed to see that movie, maybe they shouldn't be reading this book. Another thought that I had is that the language is a little strange. It wasn't foreign to me because I have read things like Lord of the Rings and Shakespeare, but to a younger reader without the experience it could be frustrating. For example, "Surely the ale-can has wrought with thee, friend Unferth, that thou hast said such things about Breca". They also might lose the meaning of things while struggling with word meanings, and really there is a lot to catch. In addition to all those other things, this graphic novel, like the poem, tells a story about honesty, bravery, valor, duty and pride. All those things are important for students to have knowledge of. It is difficult in the end to pass judgement on this novel, because there are so many factors of good things and bad things. I suppose whether or not you would allow this read in your classroom is a personal call, depending on the age of my students I am not sure that I would. That is not to say though that I wouldn't allow graphic novels to be read, just perhaps this one is a bit violent.

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