Anonymous, Beowulf, translated and with commentary by Howard Chickering, Jr. (Anchor Books, 1989)

I first encountered the Beowulf saga while performing with my band at a local midwinter festival where a storyteller was doing the entire saga starting late in the evening around a roaring fire. This dual translation is good enough to serve both the lay reader who has a serious interest in Beowulf as a tale to be savored on a cold winter's night as fire roars in the background, and the student who must learn Beowulf in the original language of Old English. Professor Chickering, Jr. has done an outstanding job of presenting a dual language Beowulf that truly makes sense.

If you don't already know about Beowulf, all you need to know is that this epic tale tells the epic story of the life and death of the legendary hero Beowulf who encounters not one, but three supernatural monsters. Beowulf -at least as it's written down by its anonymous scribe -is the great oral stories of all time. The tale tells how Beowulf battles Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the Dragon. It also deals with Beowulf's men and his leadership of them.

I should note that Professor Chickering, Jr. has done a truly great job of providing the needed material to fully appreciate Beowulf. He has incorporated the most recent scholarship in the field of Beowulfian studies and he provides the necessary historical and literary background. It's worth noting that the commentary includes alternative versions of difficult passages when need be.

It's also worth stressing that the last facing page edition of Beowulf was done in the Victorian era! This new dual facing page edition allows the reader to encounter the wonder of Beowulf as poetry. Just read a few lines of Beowulf - or better yet gather a group of friends, get some good mead, and sit around the fire of an open hearth on a cold winter's night taking turns telling the entire tale on a dark winter's night. You may well wake with a headache -- as Beowulf and his men did on many a morning -- but you'll appreciate the sheer joy of the Beowulf saga. Just remember to firmly bolt the door before you go to sleep!

[Jack Merry]