Beowulf Reviews

"Fourteen-year-old Wiglaf is a distant kinsman to the great warrior-king, Beowulf. Like all members of the Waegmunding clan, young Wiglaf has a god-given gift. And like all gifts from the Norse gods, it is also a curse. Wiglaf's gift is that 'he sees things,' but often these visions are not nice. One day, Wiglaf has a horrible vision of an old hag and a terrible monster devouring human bodies in a dark cave. Wiglaf's uncle, Aelfhere, tells the youth that he is seeing an old vision of Beowulf's famous enemies, Grendel the Troll and his evil hag mother. Wiglaf asks to know what happened and thus begins a tale about the life and death of Beowulf. At the end of the tale, Aelfhere concludes, 'You should know... that when a man looks for praise, it is often love he truly seeks.'
Although this outstanding retelling of the original Dark Age West Saxon legend stays close to the original tale, Katz adds new subthemes by having the story told through Wiglaf's eyes. Katz also works a little 20th-century psychology into the fabric as she repeatedly points out that Beowulf's selfless bravery is rooted in his own insecure need to prove himself worthy of love.
Laszlo Gal's beautiful illustrations, which resemble shimmering tapestries, capture the heroic tone of the story perfectly. Highly recommended."
--Children's Literature, 1999

"Welwyn Wilton Katz's prose retelling of this poem is, quite simply, stunning. She uses the young Wiglaf, Beowulf's loyal 14-year-old companion at the time of his death (his other companions, warriors all, had fled) as the conduit for the story. Lively conversations between Wiglaf and his grandfather, an Elder of the Waegmunding clan, advance this heroic tale in a wonderfully engrossing way. Lazslo Gal's pale, ethereal paintings, beautiful in themselves, are a cool counterpoint to the heated and bloody action."
--Globe and Mail, October 2, 1999

"The prose style of this retelling, with its evocative detail and suspenseful descriptions, does justice to the older ballad versions and may make the tale more accessible to young readers. If this book is your first introduction to Beowulf, I can see it making for a long and fond acquaintance."
--Quill & Quire, July 1999, in a starred review

"This graceful prose retelling of Beowulf dramatizes the hero's defeat of Grendel and Grendel's mother, his slaying of the dragon threatening his people, and his death scene, in which he appoints his young kinsman Wiglaf as the heir to his throne. In an effort to involve young readers, Canadian novelist Katz tells the story in third person from Wiglaf's point of view... completely absorbing. A handsome volume."
--American Library Association, December 1, 1999

"Retelling old myths and ancient epics is challenging. With her version of Beowulf, writer Welwyn Wilton Katz faces the challenge honourably by using a heroic narrative voice true to a bard from the past. At the same time, she creates another dimension that is often lacking in stories of heroes by providing detailed information about the characters, their motivations and feelings, as well as their relationships with one another. This strategy makes the tone more intimate, thus increasing its appeal for a contemporary audience. In Beowulf, myth and story are one and the same, particularly at the end when, in retrospect, the reader is able to understand how the intricacies of relationships and emotions can lead to heroic actions. Katz uses a rich and detailed poetic prose that breathes life into her retelling, enhancing the story's heroic images and landscape. She has thoroughly researched the Beowulf epic and, while she has taken liberties, she has done so coherently and respectfully. This is an absorbing, well-realized retelling of Beowulf, a welcome version for young children not yet familiar with this timeless epic to read and savour, or to listen to enthralled."
-- Books in Canada, October 1999

"Interesting... adventurous kids will like it."
-- The Observer, December 1999

"Katz's notion of the inheritance of supernatural gifts works wonderfully in her version of the old tale, for it enables her to tell the story through the eyes of young Wiglaf, an endearing and courageous adolescent not mentioned in other versions until the end of the tale. The author recreates the story with beauty and simplicity, achieving a tone and style reminiscent of the old Norse sagas. Bringing the drama and pathos of this thousand-year-old story to life are award-winning artist Laszlo Gal's magnificent paintings based on the art of the Vikings. Their dark but bold colours and sinuous line provide a stunning complement to the text. Welwyn Wilton Katz's love of mythology has been the inspiration for other outstanding books for young people, including The Third Magic (Governor General's Literary Award) and Out of the Dark (1995 Ruth Schwartz Award). In Beowulf, Katz's faith in her young readers' intelligence, combined with her ability to translate mythology into gripping stories has given middle-year readers a rare chance to enjoy a story which has echoed through literature for more than a thousand years. No school library, elementary, junior, or high school, should miss acquiring this treasure."
--Valerie Nielsen, Canadian Materials, in press, four stars out of four

"This classic Norse legend comes brilliantly to life in Lazslo Gal's striking artwork as Welwyn Katz retells the timeless tale of Beowulf who, like his only remaining close kin (young Wiglaf and Aelfhere) is endowed with a magical gift. But these gifts are also a terrible burden. Beowulf's superhuman strength makes him clumsy and even overpowers his own weapons; Aelfhere's ability to read men's minds reveals disturbing truths; and Wiglaf's true-life dreams foretell disaster. Wiglaf hears about many of Beowulf's adventures, and then is a participant himself in the final and deadly battle with a dragon. True in tone and style to the great Norse sagas, this edition of Beowulf is an outstanding introduction for today's young readers to an ancient tale of true and mythic heroism against incredible and equally mythic evils."
--Children's Bookwatch, USA, December 1999

"Welwyn Wilton Katz takes an interesting and rewarding approach to adapting a classic for young readers in Beowulf, illustrated by Lazlo Gal.
Katz, an award-winning Canadian children's novelist, retells the entire Old English epic but presents it through the eyes of Beowulf's youngest kinsman, a 14-year-old boy named Wiglaf. From the opening scene, in which Wiglaf awakens from a horrifying vision of the evil Grendel, to Beowulf's final battle with the dragon, I felt irresistibly pulled into this fascinating world of Viking warriors and mead halls, ruthless trolls, bloodthirsty sea monsters, and treasure-hungry dragons. Besides adding Wiglaf (a minor character in the original) as a framing consciousness, Welwyn Wilton Katz incorporates flashbacks and dreams into her children's version of Beowulf. Perhaps most significantly, she changes the ending to make it more satisfying for a young audience. (In the original, Beowulf's death spells destruction for his people. In Katz's version, Beowulf passes the crown to Wiglaf before he dies, thus rewarding the boy for being the only one of his warriors to help him fight the dragon.) Katz's ability to alter her source and yet stay true to the spirit of the original poem is a tribute to her craft. The Beowulf expert to whom I showed this book -- who liked it as much as I did -- particularly praised her sensitivity to the nuances in the story, such as Beowulf's lifelong desire to be loved. Laszlo Gal's formal illustrations, with their blend of darkness and bright colour (apparently inspired by the art of the Vikings), complement the shifting moods of Katz's text. But this is one picture book where the word-pictures take precedence over the illustrations -- the dragon with, "bits of gold and gems wedged between its glittering, green scales," and Beowulf gazing blankly out to sea, his face, "swollen and oozing from the poison of the dragon's teeth." I wish I could have read Welwyn Wilton Katz's Beowulf as a child. If I had, I suspect I wouldn't have skipped Old English at university. And who knows what else I would have gone on to read?
--New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, Canada, January 29, 2000

"There have been several retellings of the story of Beowulf for young people: Robert Nye's Beowulf, Ian Serraillier's verse Beowulf the Warrior, and the outstanding version by Rosemary Sutcliffe, Beowulf: Dragon Slayer, with its dramatic illustrations by the late Charles Keeping.
This is august company, but Welwyn Wilton Katz' prose version can stand with them. She stands back a little from the story by having young Wiglaf, the only companion to remain with Beowulf at the time of his death, be teller of the tale. After all his successes, and after reigning for 50 years, Beowulf is killed in a fight with a dragon. Looking back in conversations with his grandfather, we have from Wiglaf the story of Beowulf's greatest victory against Grendel and his wicked mother. The text works beautifully, bringing this ancient text dramatically to life for today's young readers, and I can strongly recommend it. Laszlo Gal's illustrations have a Viking atmosphere, and are, as always, technically excellent and beautifully toned, but I admit to having been more affected by Keeping's Grendel -- that was the stuff of nightmares.
--Last Minute Gift Guide, Canada

"Although the beginnings of the Beowulf story lie so far in the past that it is impossible to be exact about them, scholars think it is the earliest epic poem written in a modern language, perhaps dating back to the eighth century. According to Welwyn Wilton Katz's notes, Beowulf was probably sung by bards or "skalds" for at least two hundred years before it was written down in the West Saxon language. In her version of Beowulf, Katz has given young readers a vivid and exciting re-telling of this ancient story. Postulating a gift-bestowing genetic "link" in the noble Waegmunding line (one that gave Beowulf the strength of thirty men and his kinsman Aelfhere the gift of reading people's minds), she invests young Wiglaf, Aelfhere's grandson, with a supernatural gift of his own. HIs gift of "true seeing" entails visions of events, whether past, present, or future, which come to him unbidden. Shaken by a fourth vision involving Beowulf, the boy settles down to listen to his grandfather's recounting of the bloody battle between Beowulf and Grendel and the ensuing slaying of the troll's hideous mother. "Who better than his famous kinsman to train Wiglaf to be a warrior?" thinks Aelfhere, as he makes plans to take his grandson to visit Beowulf's mead hall. So it is that when Beowulf resolves to seak out and kill the dragon which has been wreaking havoc among his people for centuries, Wiglaf is one of the honored warriors that are allowed to accompany him, not to help him in the fight (for Beowulf is determined to vanquish the dreaded beast alone), but "...to watch only, just in case." In the terrible and deadly struggle between Beowulf and the dragon that ensues, 14-year-old Wiglaf is the only one of all the warriors who takes up his sword to fight beside the aging hero. Together, they slay the fire-breathing Wyrm, but poison from the great beast is so deep witin Beowulf that he dies from his wounds, leaving Wiglaf, last of the noble Waemundings, to succeed him as king.

Katz's notion of the in heritance of supernatural gifts works wonderfully in her version of the old tale, for it enables her to tell the story through the eyes of young Wiglaf, an endearing and courageous adolescent not mentioned in other versions until the end of the tale. The author recreates the story with beauty and simplicity, achieving a tone and style reminiscent of the old Norse sagas. Bringing the drama and pathos of this thousand year old story to life are award-winning artist Laszlo Gal's magnificent paintings based on the art of the Vikings. Their dark but bold colours and sinuous line provide a stunning complement to the text. Welwyn Wilton Katz's love of mythology has been the inspiration for other outstanding books for young people, including The Third Magic (1989 Governor General's Literary Award), and Out of the Dark (1995 Ruth Schwarz Award). In Beowulf, Katz's faith in her young readers' intelligence, combined with her ability to translate mythology into gripping stories, has given middle years readers a rare chance to enjoy a story which has echoed through literature for more than a thousand years. No school library, elementary, junior or high school, should miss acquiring this treasure.
--CM Magazine, Manatoba, Canada, March 17, 2000

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