might wonder how a lively, engaging and versatile professional storyteller
like Chris Vinsonhaler of Ocean Springs gets wrapped up in retelling
what's likely the most loathsome work of literature faced by high
school students the country over.
xxEven the vandal who broke into her
car recently and stole a cassette of her reading "Beowulf"
in Old English threw it unwound and unwanted on the ground nearby,
apparently in anger, after hearing its content.
xxVinsonhaler made the tape in order
to immerse herself in the words of the poem as research in a seven-year
project of translating this fearsome story into one with modern meaning.
Her impetus for the translation was the idea that "Beowulf"
was meant to be heard as a spoken story, not to be readwhich
radically changes its meaning from a story about heroes to a work
of prophetic literature for all time.
xx"It is a story of long ago and
far away," Vinsonhaler said. "Yet it is also a story of
what is present and what is to come."
xx"Beowulf" was written in
Old English sometime before the 11th century A.D. and it describes
in an epic poem the adventures of a great Scandinavian warrior of
the sixth century.
xxConsidered to be a rich fabric of fact
and fancy, it's the oldest surviving epic in English literature and
exists in only one manuscript, which is now housed in the British
Library. Its study is included in most English literature curricula
in the country.
xxThere are at least 88 translation of
"Beowulf," including one by Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus
xxA 500-copy first run of Vinsonhaler's
book is due out by August 15, financed by a $4000 grant funded by
the National Endowment for the Arts.Vinsonhaler's performance of the
poem has been hosted by universities, conferences, schools, and community
at a glance
Plot: A Danish mead
hall built in the form of a high tower by King Hrothgar is
ravaged for years by Grendel, a spirit in the form of a man,
the monstrous offspring of Cain, who inhabits the swamp next
door. Enter Beowulf of the Geats, a man of great strength
and size, who takes on and defeats Grendel. There's rejoicing
at the mead hall until the following night when Grendel's
mother comes for revenge, murdering Hrothgar's closest friend.
Beowulf seeks out and slays the monstrous mother in her underwater
home. King Hrothgar rewards Beowulf, who then returns to his
own country and rules for 50 years, until he again has to
take on an enemy, a dragon that emerges from a grave. This
time, however, Beowulf purchases victory with his life: He
and the dragon destroy each other.
Contrast: While the poem is traditionally viewed as
a story admiring heroes in days gone by, Vinsonhaler reads
the poem as a work of prophetic literature that speaks to
all time. "Beowulf is not so much about good people
fighting evil monsters, as it is about what is monstrous in