- Beyond Beowulf
"Beyond Beowulf" (ISBN 0595373585) is a modern sequel to the Anglo-Saxon legend of
Beowulfwritten by Christopher L. Webberand published in 2006. Taking place immediately after the funeral of the Geatish hero-king Beowulf, the poetic novel follows the remaining Geats as they abandon their homeland and sail over the known world. Led by their new hero Wiglaf, a relative of Beowulf's, the Geats search the known world for a peaceful homeland, eventually settling in the region of Englandaround Sutton Hoo.
As fire consumes Beowulf, fallen after a mortal battle with the dragon, the Geatish people despair. Under Beowulf's reign, they were safe from the surrounding Germanic tribes. Now that he is dead, they expect the Swedes, under their leader
Eadgils, to avenge a defeat suffered earlier at the Battle of Ravenswood where their king Ongenþeowwas slain.
In the interim, the Geats rebuild their homesteads, farms and villages after their destruction by the dragon. In a new meadhall the Geatish warriors discuss a course of action. Their strongest champion,
Sigelac, takes command of the kingdom and recommends that the Geats make a pre-emptive strike against the Swedes. Wiglafthen wonders aloud how the warring between the Swedes and the Geats started. The thanes, uncomfortable with such a question, turn to the oldest and wisest among them, Aelric. His response is too long for Sigelac's liking, who interrupts and tells Wiglaf that how the feud began is irrelevant: the Swedes will destroy the Geats unless action is taken. After a night of feasting, poetry and merryment, Sigelac takes the majority of the Geatish thanes aboard the dragon-headed ships and sails for Swedish territory, while Wiglaf stays with the remainder of the thanes to guard Götland.
The Geats experience a time of peace until one ravaged survivor,
Wolferth, staggers back to the meadhall and tells the astonished assembly how he is the lone survivor of a complete rout. At an unnamed Swedish village where the Geats put in their boats, the Swedes surrounded them from the forests and closed Sigelac's army into a noose. Wolferth describes how several heroes fell and how he survived by taking the blunt end of an axe and being passed off as dead. All of the great Geatish champions, including Sigelac, fell at the hands of the Swedes, with Sigelac being slain by Eadgils himself. With the majority of the army gone, a new, darker depression settles over the Geats who are now sure they will be destroyed by the marauding Swedes. Wiglaf is put into control of the kingdom and considers a new course of action for his tribe. With so many dead, he recommends that they threaten the Swedes no further until a meeting is called.
The next day on a beach, Wiglaf draws a circle representing the known world. He hears two points of view: the first being that the surviving Geats should mount one last attack against Eadgils and gain glory by dying. Others, represented by
Herebrundthe farmer, assert that, although their roots are in Götland, it would be better to leave and find a new homeland in which to perpetuate their race. Wiglaf eventually sides with Herebrund, saying that glory is useless in death. In his circle of the world, he points out the neighboring tribes and their relative locations, saying that few are safe. Wiglaf then depicts points outside of the circle, saying that perhaps new lands await them in the unknown world. However, due to a bond of friendship declared between Beowulf and King Hroðgarof the Danes, it would be best to first find out if the Danes will take them in. Taking the advice of their new leader, the Geats pack their supplies and weapons into a ragtag fleet of ships and burn down all traces of their settlement in Götland. Once the Geatish fleet is over the horizon, the Swedish ships encounter the smoking ruins of the Geatish villages and postulate that the Wulfingsmade short work of the Geats. Eadgils leaves disappointed, having not had the pleasure of destroying the enemy himself.
After a harrowing journey over the stormy
Baltic Sea, the Geatish fleet arrives in Daneland. After an exchange with a coastguard, Wiglaf takes a group of women and children to Hrethor, the new king of the Danes, believing that a showing of desperate noncombatants will be more advantageous to his cause than a group of armed thanes. The Geats are surprised to see that Hrothgar's dazzling old meadhall, Heorot, is in ruins and the Danish people are shiftless. At the new meadhall of Hrethor, the king tells Wiglaf that the Franksand Frisianshave been wreaking havoc upon his kingdom and looted his winter stores. Because of the desperate state of the Danes, Wittuthe guard says that the covenant of Beowulf and Hrothgar was overturned. Wiglaf decides to leave the Danes in search of a land the Geats may call their own. Before he leaves, Hrethor decides that the Geatish armor and spears could serve his people well against the Franks and Frisians and attacks the Geatish camp. Wiglaf singlehandedly defeats scores of Danes while his people escape onto the boats. Wiglaf finally jumps aboard and leaves.
Sailing over the Baltic proves harrowing, as the fleet encounters an impenetrable fog. When they emerge, a coastguard perched on the cliffs of
Jutlandinforms the fleet that foreigners are unwelcome and that his king has declared that all outsiders will be subjected to servitude. The Geats depart again, eventually landing at the southern tip of Norwayin a fjord. This environment seems to be well-suited to the Geatish needs: it is plentiful in fish and game, is arable and the high mountains will protect it from enemies. The only disconcerting aspect is a nightly wailing, which turn out to be tree-sized ice trollswho raid the Geatish camp for human flesh. After they carry away two hapless thanes, Aelric informs Wiglaf that trolls are terrified of fire. After killing one troll with a flaming branch, Wiglaf leads two other heroes to the troll's hideout in the mountains where they bombard the cave with flaming wood sent through a vent.
Despite this victory and a large bonfire the Geats utilize to protect their settlement, some wish to leave. Wiglaf says they must stand firm. However, he organizes a naval expedition under
Laefstan. The crew encounters pacifistic towns along the Norwegian coast and, by pillaging them and kindling an animosity with the natives, accidentally create the Vikings. When Laefstan returns, he brags about his exploits to Wiglaf's chagrin. Wiglaf prophesies a day when the Norsemen will hunt them down for revenge. An argument breaks out, where Laefstan slays Aelric and Laefstan is in turn murdered. Wiglaf puts an end to the violence, saying it is senseless. After he equally burns the bodies, he hears three advisers. One states that they should return to Götland, another asserts they should remain in the fjord, the last advises that they should continue searching for a new land devoid of trolls. Wiglaf agrees with the last and the Geats set sail again.
After many days on the tempestuous
North Sea, the Geats encounter a disorienting fog. When they emerge, they discover the Orkney Islands. The pacifistic Orkenians offer the Geats unused land and information. Although the land is peaceful, the Geats are unnerved by the neolithic monuments scattered about the island and the pyramid-like hills used to bury the dead. Unnerved by the possibility of a race of giants constructing the Orkenian stone circles, the Geats inquire of the Orkenians where to go next. The Orkenians inform then north of their islands are only windswept rocks (the Shetland Islandsand Faroe Islandsin modern geography), and north of that are only endless ice fields (the North Pole). West is endless ocean, but south is a much larger island. In the north of this island is a fierce hill people (the Scots). The Orkenians put in special warning about an infamous lake where a monster resides. However, south of Scotland is a peaceful land (Saxon England). The Geats depart for this fabled land of harmony.
Putting in at a Scottish cove to hunt for game, two Geatish warriors and a woman are killed by a raiding party of Scots. Wiglaf rallies his troops and plunges into the woods where they kill many Scottish archers. Leaving Scotland, the Geats eventually encounter a peaceful monastery of
Christianmonks upon an island. Wiglaf, coming from the polytheisticGeats, takes an interest in monotheism and Christianity. The Geats are unnerved by monotheism, and wish to leave. To safeguard the monks from Geatish thanes, Wiglaf leaves, ostensibly a Christian. The monks pray for the Geats.
Another monastery is encountered soon after, along with a convent. At the convent the abbess
Hildasupplies the Geats and sends them on their way. She tells them about a bard in her employ who could sing for them. Later, after putting in at an English cove, a Geatish hunting party captures a the runaway poet, who turns out to be Caedmon. A herdsman for Hilda's convent, Caedmon is terrified of making a fool of himself. Wiglaf tells the bard he is a prisoner and will not be released until he plays a song. Caedmon proceeds to play his hymn and, after a poetry jam with the Geatish bard, is released.
The Geats set sail and eventually find the land they desire, near Sutton Hoo in England. The Geats settle the fertile river valleys and tributaries of the Thames where small groups of
Saxonsswear allegiance to them. Wiglaf is reluctantly declared king. He says he can never be what Beowulf is. Many Geats wish for their old warlike ways, but Wiglaf tries a new experiment: peace. Under peace, the Geats flourish as they never did before, building up a rich land and large houses.
Meanwhile, the Saxon king Ranulf claims that the land settled by the Geats is Saxon property and must be wrested by force. Hoping to gain the element of surprise, Ranulf sends of fleet of warriors through the marshes. The Geats, hearing noises from the swamps, inform Wiglaf who readies the thanes. On the day of battle, Ranulf tells the Geats that he will leave them in peace if they submit to him in servitude. Wiglaf makes an impassioned speech in defense of a peoples' liberty and sovereignty, and the battle begins. The Saxons are taken by surprise and forced into a circle as Geatish warriors surround them from all directions. The infamous Saxon axes cut down many thanes, but the Geats rally and attack the circle. Fighting their way to the center, Wiglaf faces off against Ranulf. Wiglaf mortally wounds the Saxon king and the Saxons abandon Ranulf, fleeing to the fens where they all drown in swamps. Wiglaf points out that the Saxons have no loyalty, abandoning their king in his time of need. As Ranulf dies, the Geats discover that a Saxon arrow has pierced Wiglaf near the heart, assuring his death. As he dies, Wiglaf ponders the future of the Geats, wondering if the next king will continue peace or become warlike. He dies and is interred in a Geatish ship, which the Geats proceed to bury. All that is left above the ground is the mast, marking Wiglaf's grave. As time moves on, British history transpires. The
Battle of Hastingsoccurs, William the Conqueroris instated as king, Henry VII ascends to the throne, North American colonies are founded as the English Civil Waroccurs followed by the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwelland the Glorious Revolution. The Victorian Eraemerges, and Hitler's Blitzkrieg occurs during World War II. By the turn of the millennium in the year 2000 AD, the ship's mast has decayed and disappeared. No one alive in present-day Great Britain remembers who was buried there. In a semi-tragic ending, Wiglaf is forgotten from history.
Wiglaf- Hero-king of the Geats, Sigelac's successor
Sigelac- The mightiest champion of the Geats, Beowulf's successor
Aelric- The oldest and wisest of the Geatish warriors
Wolferth- Lone Geatish survivor of the battle with the Swedes, the messenger
Selibrod- Sigelac's father
Eadgils- King of the Swedes
Modril- Father of Malric
Malric- Son of Modril, killed by the Swedes
Byrhtwulf- Geatish hero killed by the Swedes
Lofric- Geatish warrior who does not wish to leave Götaland.
Herbrund- Geatish farmer who advises departure from Götaland.
Yrfa- Wiglaf's wife, she speaks for the women, beloved queen of the Geats in England
Hrethor- Current king of the Danes
Wittu- Guard, wary retainer of the Danish court
Laefstan- Geatish captain and leader of the brutal expedition that turns the Norsemen into Vikings
Fredgar- Vain Geatish thane who advises Wiglaf to return to Götaland, constantly wishes for war
Siric- One of Wiglaf's troll hunters, a seasoned fighter, advises Wiglaf to remain in Norway
Ethelbyrht- Oldest advisor of Wiglaf, advises the leader to continue searching for a homeland
Waelric- Tallest Geatish thane, battles beside Wiglaf against the trolls, Scots and Saxons
* Hilda - A nun from
Lindisfarnewho settled in the coastal convent
Caedmon- Shepherd poet
Ranulf- Belligerent Saxon king, killed by Wiglaf
* Beowulf - Greatest Geatish hero
Daeghrefne- A Geatish hero who died, Beowulf returned his armor home.
Hygelac- King of the Geats when Beowulf killed Grendel
Herdred- Beowulf's royal predecessor, Hygelac's son
Ongenþtheow- Former king of the Swedes.
Grendel- His severed arm is all that remains of Heorot.
Ferlag- A member of Beowulf's sailing crew murdered by a sea serpent
Hathcyn- Hrethel's son
Eanmund- Murdered brother of Eadgils
Hroðgar- King of the Danes during Grendel's reign of terror
Ecgþeow- Beowulf's father
Weohstan- Wiglaf's father
Halga- Hrothulf's father
Hrothulf- Usurper of the Danish throne after Hroðgar's death
Heoreweard- Assassin of Hrothulf, usurper of Danish throne
Hetware- Danish enemy
Scyld- Great Danish hero of old
Scef- Scyld's father
Beow- Scyld's son
Halfdane- Beow's son, Hroðgar's father
Loch Ness Monster
Waelstan- Waelric's father
Ohthere- Eanumund's father
In his writing of "Beyond Beowulf", Christopher Webber used the ancient Anglo-Saxon form.
Special attention is paid to
alliteration, which is a cornerstone of the novel's poetry. In lines such as 1152, alliteration is used to preserve emphasis and prominence of the vocabulary.
:"No sun, no shore, no sign they could see".
Here, "sun" alliterates with "sign" and "see".Using the example of
William Langland, Webber uses alliterated sresses at least three times in a line. In addition to this, Webber fits the alliteration into the Old English iambic pentameterto clarify the stress patterns and accent the syllables. This is done to preserve an original feel to the poetic novel.
kennings, a staple of Anglo-Saxon poetry, are utilized in "Beyond Beowulf." Webber takes the kenning "whale-road" directly from Beowulf, but uses his own "swan-road" during the Geatish voyages in line 1136.
Diction is maintained throughout "Beyond Beowulf" by using the alliterate stresses. Lines such as 570 demonstrate diction.
:"...And bent my back against the biggest tree."
Here, the pronounced Bs in "bent, back" and "biggest" preserve diction.
Written in modern times, "Beyond Beowulf" contains themes familiar to present-day Western society, but would not necessarily be touched by an Anglo-Saxon poet living after the fall of Roman Empire. Themes that are shared in common with "Beowulf" are explored more deeply in "Beoynd Beowulf."
In a departure from "Beowulf", where the Geats under Hygelac and previous kings were a warlike people committed to pillage and battle, the Geats of "Beyond Beowulf" are weened off unnecessary warfare by Wiglaf. Incidentally, Beowulf acted the same way as king of the Geats during "Beowulf," preferring to build up his land instead of pursuing war with the Swedes. However, unlike the uniting figure of Beowulf, Wiglaf is shown on several occasions having to stifle malcontent thanes who wish to pursue battle with native tribes. Upon settlement in England, Wiglaf establishes a peaceful Geatish nation after having to rebuke the conservative, warlike thanes. In an intentional contrast of imagery, Webber creates warlike Götland as a dark, foreboding place of depression. On the other hand, Wiglaf's English possessions are bright, sunny and harmonious, illustrating a desirable peaceful world over one plagued by conflict. By pursuing peace, Wiglaf is intentionally contrasted with Eadgills, Hrethor, the Franks, Scots and even Sigelac and Laefstan. These men are portrayed as dark, sometimes bloodthirsty raiders while Wiglaf seems civilized by Western standards. This in effect makes Wiglaf a prototype Westerner.
In his contact with Ranulf, Wiglaf takes a stand for the liberty of a people, asserting that freedom is a necessity. This concept was rare in the Dark Ages, and was not touched by the anonymous poet of "Beowulf." In his defense of national sovereignty, Wiglaf is established as a progressive character, a bridge between Norse culture and Western thought. The fact that Christopher Webber is an American author also influences this theme.
Webber's own Christian faith influences the exchanges between Wiglaf and the British monks. Although the poet of "Beowulf" was arguably a Christian, due to Beowulf's constant references to a single
Godand the uselessness of pagan idols, the Anglo-Saxon poet made it appear that, after the proven uselessness of the idols, Germanians of all stripes became monotheists. However, in "Beyond Beowulf" there is a distinct schism between monotheism and polytheism. The Geats are established as polytheists, thanking their gods for the Norwegian fjord. Additionally, in their contact with the Christian monks they grow restless at Wiglaf's questioning of their beliefs. His interest in the Christian dogma is unsettling to the conservative Geats. Wiglaf, via his questioning of the pagan beliefs of his people, becomes another bridge between pagan Norse culture and the Christianized society of the West. It also represents a switch from paganism to Christianity. Additionally, the dispute between the pagans and the Christians is resolved without bloodshed, tying into the theme of peace.
Before the fateful battle with the Swedes, the Geatish bard sings of Beowulf's exploits. In one such tale, Beowulf acted as a
Leif Ericsson, sailing with a crew of Geats out past Norway and Iceland into the Atlantic, eventually a "lifeless, barren land" ( Greenland). At journey's end, Beowulf sails south to Newfoundland, where he and his crew are chased off by a tribe of Native Americans.
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