Grendel’s Mother: The Saga of the Wyrd-Wife by Susan Signe Morrison
I was very excited to read this book. As a medievalist and fantasy lover, Beowulf was a must-read and a lasting interest for me. This one epic poem, with the help of J.R.R. Tolkien spawned an entire genre that I adore. I am also fascinated by retellings, or, more accurately, the repurposing of old stories into new and different ones. Let me say, Grendel’s Mother: The Saga of the Wyrd-Wife did not at all disappoint on either count.
Told from the perspective of Brimhild, sea-orphaned babe, once Queen of the Scyldings, product of rape and incest, mother to Grendel, this book offers up this infamous story from a new perspective. What’s more, and my favourite aspect I think, is that it does so utilizing the devices and tools that characterize the original poem. While I did find the alliteration occasionally heavy-handed and disruptive, overall the use of alliteration, epithets, and kenning was beautifully crafted.
The tone and style are somewhat alien, especially for a modern reader, but I feel that this is actually working to set the scene and rhythm of a historical space that is very alien to the one we inhabit. Even more importantly that rhythm and tone is consistent throughout and that lets the reader settle into a world that the language patterns and tone, as much as anything else, create.
All in all a definite, recommended read!
Publication Date: September 25, 2015
Top Hat Books
Paperback & eBook; 238 Pages
An amber bead. A gold and glass drinking horn. A ring engraved with Thor’s hammer—all artifacts from a Germanic tribe that carved a space for itself through brutality and violence on a windswept land. Brimhild weaves peace and conveys culture to the kingdom, until the secret of her birth threatens to tear apart the fragile political stability. This is her story—the tale of Grendel’s Mother. She is no monster as portrayed in the Old English epic, Beowulf. We learn her side of the story and that of her defamed child. We see the many passages of her life: the brine-baby who floated mysteriously to shore; the hall-queen presiding over the triumphant building of the golden hall Heorot and victim of sexual and political betrayal; the exiled mere-wife, who ekes out a marginal life by an uncanny bog as a healer and contends with the menacing Beowulf; and the seer, who prophesizes what will occur to her adopted people. We learn how the invasion by brutal men is not a fairy tale, but a disaster doomed to cycle relentlessly through human history. Only the surviving women can sing poignant laments, preserve a glittering culture, and provide hope for the future.
“What a gift! Grendel’s Mother is sure to become an integral part of every class on Beowulf.” – Candace Robb, author of the Owen Archer Mystery Series and, as Emma Campion, A Triple Knot
“This fascinating narrative is to readers today what John Gardner’s Grendel was to readers of the 1970s.” – Haruko Momma, Professor of English, New York University
Susan Signe Morrison writes on topics lurking in the margins of history, ranging from recently uncovered diaries of a teenaged girl in World War II, to medieval women pilgrims, excrement in the Middle Ages, and waste. Susan Morrison is Professor of English at Texas State University. She grew up in New Jersey by the Great Swamp, a National Wildlife Refuge with terrain not unlike that of Grendel’s Mother’s mere in Beowulf. Committed to bringing the lives of medieval women to a wider audience and making the ethics of waste fundamental to our study of literature, Susan can be found at grendelsmotherthenovel.com, homefrontgirldiary.com, and amedievalwomanscompanion.com and tweets @medievalwomen.
Susan’s BA is from Swarthmore College and her A.M./Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Brown University. She has studied in Germany and taught in the former East Germany. Susan’s publications have appeared in such journals as The Yearbook of Langland Studies, Medievalia et Humanistica, Medieval Feminist Forum, The Chaucer Review, Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, The New York Times, Women In German Yearbook, Journal of Popular Culture, Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik, as well as numerous book chapters. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, daughter and son.
For more information visit Susan’s website.
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Review at One Book Shy of a Full Shelf
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Review at Seize the Words: Books in Review
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Review at With Her Nose Stuck In A Book
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