Beowulf: A Classic I Read in School and Ended Up Loving (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

What Is Classic Remarks?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

How Can I Participate?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

This Week’s Prompt:

What classic did you read in school and end up loving?

Medieval literature is not exactly widely read by the general public. Perhaps it is too far removed from the everyday to seem relevant. Perhaps people fear it will be difficult to read or understand because it is so old. However, I have a special fondness for medieval literature–and it began in high school.

While medieval literature is not, as a rule, widely taught in U. S. high schools, Beowulf usually is. An anonymous alliterative poem written in Old English, Beowulf does not seem like the type of literary work poised to become widely beloved. And yet, the tale immediately captured me with its mystery, its sense of magic, its wonder. In many ways, if you think about it, Beowulf, the story of a hero who fights monsters with his bare hands and slays dragons in his old age, is simply one of the earliest extant example of fantasy we have in English. I love dragons! So, of course, I love Beowulf.

Beowulf, however, enchants me with more than its monsters. I am also fascinated by the interplay between Beowulf’s pagan beliefs and the writer’s Christian beliefs. There is something bittersweet about the story, with Beowulf desperately trying to live on in the only way he believes he can–through achieving lasting fame–especially when it combines with the reader’s knowledge that Christianity will come and Beowulf’s time, with all its glory and honor and dragons will fade away. Beowulf is not a typical fantasy because it ends sadly, with a sense of foreboding doom. It is, however, the type of story that stays with you.

Required reading in schools can often get a bad reputation, with opponents arguing that old books do not speak to today’s youth and should be replaced with contemporary titles. However, required reading in schools introduced me to many works I may not have picked up by myself–and it taught me to love them. Beowulf remains a favorite story of mine to this day. I don’t need to be a 6th-century Scandinavian warrior to appreciate it.

What about you? Have you read Beowulf? And what books did you learn to love in school?

25 thoughts on “Beowulf: A Classic I Read in School and Ended Up Loving (Classic Remarks)

  1. Davida Chazan says:

    I tried… I really tried to read this. I even bought the new translation which is supposed to be the most readable of all the versions and… I couldn’t… it just was too confusing. But I’m glad you liked it.

    Like

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I do think parts of it can be confusing, especially all the background about who Beowulf is and how he is related to Hrothgar. And after he kills Grendel, there is the whole story within a story thing. Good notes definitely helped me!

      Liked by 1 person

        • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

          That’s fair! I do think the “confusing” criticism is valid, though, and I’m not sure I actually see it mentioned that much! People often talk about Beowulf as if there are three clear-cut battles with monsters (Grendel, his mother, the dragon), and the text is this straightforwardly structured fantasy adventure, but there really are several diversions that have nothing to do with the monsters, and it’s pretty easy to have no idea what the author is talking about during those moments!

          Liked by 2 people

  2. marydrover says:

    I absolutely adore Beowulf, and I remember being so sad that I’d read it in high school because I thought that meant I wouldn’t read it in college, but all I had to do was taken a medieval European texts class, and voilà! It’s truly one of the best classic fantasies out there.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Perfect! I love that you enjoyed it so much, you wanted to read it again in another class setting! I think being able to discuss a book with others who have read it can be so impactful!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Michael J. Miller says:

    I’ve always loved ‘Beowulf’ because of the fantasy elements, too. I remember being SO EXCITED to read a story WITH DRAGONS in school. Also, for the history nerd in me, the fact that it’s so old always excited me. And the theology nerd in my loves the tension between the Christian and Pagan worldviews. So there’s just so much to love with ‘Beowulf.’

    Also, I have a post for this week! Here’s the link to my Classic Remarks contribution :). I wrote about ‘The Great Gatsby.’

    https://mycomicrelief.wordpress.com/2020/06/05/the-great-gatsby-a-classic-i-read-in-school-and-ended-up-loving-classic-remarks/

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yes! How often do you get to read about dragons in school?? Not often enough!

      We also watched the Benjamin Bagby performance of Bewoulf–so powerful! He really makes the poem come alive, which is so important when you’re teaching a text!

      Thanks for participating this week!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michael J. Miller says:

        Can you imagine a literature elective just called, “DRAGONS!”?? I would have loved that as a student and I would still sign up for it just as fast now.

        I’ve not seen Benjamin Bagby’s performance (which I’m not totally retroactively blaming my teachers for as I’ve read this in at least three or four classes) but I’ll have to check it out. To make the story come alive like that is so important especially, I think, for the older a text is. While it’s not always true, I think students can throw walls up to a text when it’s “old” because they already believe they can’t connect with it. So bringing it alive not only connects them to the text but helps challenge and maybe even bring down those preconceived notions.

        I was so excited when I realized I had an idea for this topic! I’ve ideas for a couple more, too. I really love this series so it was extra fun to participate in it myself :D.

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          YES! My school experience would have been at least 10x cooler with dragons! Why has no one done this yet?

          Haha! I think I was taught Beowulf twice and we watched Bagby each time! Your teachers didn’t get the memo!

          It was great having you participate!

          Liked by 1 person

  4. mphtheatregirl says:

    Boy, I rarely rarely find a classic I loved in school. I might love classics, but that is different for the required school ones

    Like

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