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review 2017-12-19 22:16
This is bona fide angst
Grendel - John Gardner

I have to assume that a large majority of you studied the epic poem, Beowulf, when you were in high school. If you recall, this is often cited as the oldest example of an epic poem in Old English and it tells the story of the hero, Beowulf, who comes to aid a king who is plagued by a monster known as Grendel. It goes on to discuss Beowulf's homecoming and his continuing adventures (with a dragon no less). All I remember of the poem was a fight in a cave. (Clearly I was unimpressed with this work's historical lineage.) So it might come as a surprise that when I saw Grendel by John Gardner I was intrigued by discovering that it was a kind of retelling of the poem in narrative format...from Grendel's point of view. Straight out of the gate, this was an absolutely bizarre piece of literature. I came away from it thinking that it was too cerebral for me (Farewell hubris!) because there were many times I felt like I had absolutely no clue what was going on. I think part of this lies with the narrative style which mixed Old English language (like the original) with contemporary phraseology (curses galore, ya'll). I was nearly tempted to reread Beowulf for reference. (Spoiler alert: I didn't.) This is a philosophical novel that ponders the nature of existence and what it actually means to be 'good' or 'evil' because for something to be truly 'good' there needs to be a corresponding 'evil' to balance it...right? Grendel is a classic example of an antihero but boy does he jaw on and on and on about his place in the universe. I found him bitter and whiny but I don't know if that's due to characterization or if it's the author's 'voice' projected onto the character. I guess I'll have to decide if I want to read more of Gardner's works to find out the answer. It's hard for me to sum up my feelings on this one other than to say it wasn't an especially enjoyable time and I don't know who I'd recommend this one too because it's very niche. It's a 3/10 for me.

 

What's Up Next: The Great Questions of Tomorrow by David Rothkopf

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Mine Own Executioner by Nigel Balchin (and also Scythe which apparently I'm never going to finish)

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-05-05 14:27
A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons by Geoffrey Hindley
A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons: The Beginnings of the English Nation - Geoffrey Hindley

A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons covers the Anglo-Saxon history from A.D. 400 (around the time of their invasion of England) through to the 1100s (the ‘Aftermath' of the Norman invasion).  Geoffrey Hindley not only includes the Anglo-Saxon influence on the British Isles but also how they influenced mainland Europe.  Despite being a "brief" history, this book covers a wealth of information, including culture, religion, and literature as well as military aspects.  Geoffrey Hindley has a scholarly writing style that none the less manages to convey the history of the Anglo-Saxons in an interesting and informative manner.  Maps, photographs and genealogical tables are included in this book.

I much preferred this book by Geoffrey Hindley in comparison to The Anglo-Saxon Age by Martin Wall, which has a more informal writing style, but leaves out mainland Europe completely and ignores the Anglo-Saxon cultural history in favour of a simplified military history.  

 

 

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review 2015-08-09 09:16
Oswald: Return of the King
Oswald: Return of the King - Edoardo Albert

by Edoardo Albert

 

The book begins with lists of difficult names I'll never remember, but clarifies pronunciation and historic context. It also explains the importance of names to Anglo-Saxons and why no two will have exactly the same name, although descendants might get an adaptation of an ancestor's name.

 

After the cast of characters, we get an overview of what happened in the previous book, Edwin. This is very useful for people like myself who haven't read the first one, and also starts to give us the feel for the historic period.

 

Then we get to the story for this book. I want to describe it as good, but it doesn't have the flow of really great writing. Too many sentences starting with ing verbs can put me off easily. It works in moderation but the beginning overdid it somewhat.

 

Once I got past that, I was able to get into the story more and appreciate the historic period and events as well as getting to know the characters. Oswald is a reasonably likeable character who would actually like to be a monk, but duty requires that he take up kingship. The pace was a little slow, but ultimately it did take me to the Historical period and the characters were well defined. I felt sympathy for Oswald's changing fortunes and the expectations put upon him just for being born in a line of kings.

 

One of the strong themes in the story is the changing face of religion, as Christianity begins to take hold in a country with Pagan roots. Different factions even within the same families might worship the old gods or embrace the new faith. The latter tend to be very forceful with their opinions, rather like some modern factions.

 

I would recommend this story for anyone who wants to get a strong feel for Anglo-Saxon history. It is atmospheric and realistic about some of the nasty things that happen in battles without becoming overwhelmingly gory.

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