Reviews for Beowulf, a Hero's Tale Retold

Booklist Reviews 2007 August #1
Beowulf 's action-heavy and single-minded take on heroism makes it an appealing choice for younger readers, while posing the challenge of tempering the intensity of the violent, limb-rending bloodbaths that make up much of the story. Rumford's version only lightly drips with gore, though, as he is more focused on preserving the language of the eighth-century epic. He carefully deploys only words derived from the Anglo-Saxon of the original--those that evoke a simpler, sterner, and more perilous age, and retells the tale in an evenly measured cadence, which sounds great read aloud in as booming a voice as possible. The busy pen-and-ink artwork, while rough, is suitably dramatic and expressive, washed by pestilential sage-hued greens, murky underwater blues, and the golden whorls of dragon's breath. Rumford is obviously passionate about the source and admirably encourages readers to seek out the original, whose ancient words will make the night darker, the shadows deeper, and, perhaps, your heart bolder. This fine introduction may inspire them to do just that. Copyright 2007 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2007 #4
The epic Anglo-Saxon poem "Beowulf" is structured around the hero's three fights-to-the-death: with the jealous monster Grendel, nightly terrorizing Danish king Hrothgar's shield hall; with Grendel's mother, bent on revenge; and finally, in Beowulf's old age, with the dragon laying waste to the Geats' lands. The poem has survived since 800 c.e., however, because of what it has to say about the nature and value of friendship, character, leadership, loyalty, and glory. Hinds's graphic-novel-styled version revels in all the one-on-one combat (and indeed pictures Beowulf as a comics-style superhero, with the body of a WWF wrestler). But the disproportionate emphasis on action alone makes his version a superficial one. Panels are arranged without tension; the many typefaces are hard to read; and even the action scenes lack dynamism. Rumford's version, in contrast, is superb on all counts -- from the elegant bookmaking to the vigorous, evocative prose ("when sleep was at its deepest, night at its blackest, up from the mist-filled marsh came Grendel stalking") to the pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations that strikingly recall the work of Edmund Dulac. Rumford even manages to hint at the poem's emotional depths in his concise retelling, which is written almost entirely using English words of Anglo-Saxon origin. The book design is similarly fundamental, with the three distinct parts of the story delineated by green, blue, and yellow backgrounds. Most effective of all is the dragon lurking -- sinuously, patiently -- behind the panels of the first two sections, foreshadowing Beowulf's eventual fate. Copyright 2007 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2007 July #1
"What you have heard before is nothing. I will stir up the waters of the old days and shape the long-ago then into now. I will speak of ogres and dragons and faraway lands. Listen!" Retelling the earliest English hero tale using only words descended from Anglo-Saxon and Norse tongues, Rumford crafts a steely account of the Great Geat's deeds. He pairs it to painted illustrations in which the green figures of Grendel and his mother are all long, sharp teeth and swirling nets of fronds. Beowulf looks deceptively ordinary, and the spiky red dragon that is ultimately the hero's doom weaves sinuously across nearly every background. Runes in the pictures spell out Beowulf's name, and lines from the 1,200-year-old original. Among the dragon's-hoard of recent renditions, this stands out both as being more suited to a single-sitting read-aloud than Michael Morpurgo's complete edition, illustrated by Michael Foreman (2006), and, unlike the Gareth Hinds version (April 2007), for depicting hard-fought battles without splatters of gore. (afterword) (Folktale. 7-10) Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 August #2

What you have heard before is nothing." So begins this strikingly illustrated adaptation of Beowulf. Restricting his vocabulary almost exclusively to words with Anglo-Saxon origins, Rumford (Seeker of Knowledge ) fashions a type of epic language: "It was then that Wiglaf showed his true heart-strength. Shieldless, with seared hands, he stuck his gleaming sword into the dragon. This freed Beowulf, who drew a knife from his belt and buried it deep inside the fire-snake." Rumford's own "heart-strength" comes through in his art, pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations that convey the ninth-century action with 21st-century immediacy. Large panels offer detailed views of pivotal scenes, and Rumford's expert use of line generates an almost visible degree of motion; when Grendel's mother menaces Beowulf, he seems virtually to fall as she advances with her ominously curved knife. Behind the art and text panels in the first two sections lurks the dragon that is to prove so crucial in the end; in the concluding section, increasing numbers of crows foreshadow Beowulf's death. A very skillful presentation. Ages 9-12. (Aug.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2007 August

Gr 5-8-- A beautiful retelling of the ancient poetic tale. Beowulf, the Danish hero from the Land of the Geats, shows fierce bravery and great strength to slay the ogre Grendel; Grendel's sea-hag mother; and, in his old age, a fire-breathing dragon bent on mayhem. In order to capture the feel of the original Old English text, this shortened version is composed almost entirely of words rooted in Old English (Anglo Saxon). An author's note introduces the history surrounding the poem. Rumford cites Seamus Heaney's recent translation of the classic as inspiration. Handsome spreads consist of an off-white box of text outlined in black and larger boxed artwork drawn and finely detailed in black ink, then painted with watercolor--both set on a batiklike background. Parts of a dragon--claws, wings, spiked tail, pointed head--protrude from under each illustration, until the whole beast finally crawls out and wreaks destruction upon the Land of the Geats. While Michael Morpurgo's fine retelling of the tale (Candlewick, 2006) is much longer and more detailed, Rumford's brief text and highly appealing format make his version accessible to a younger audience with little change to the original story.--Susan Scheps, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH

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