A few days back I posted a review of a book on the Viking Age which had disappointed me. Author Ruth A. Johnston, who happens to be a Facebook friend, then mentioned her own book on Beowulf, which I’d already read. I hadn’t noticed that it came from the same publisher.
Ruth’s book, A Companion to Beowulf, is much, much better.
A Companion to Beowulf is, as you would expect, an introduction to the poem, useful for students or history buffs or Tolkien fans. It’s well written and comprehensive, and includes a list of modern adaptations, a glossary of names, a list of works cited, and even a chapter on Tolkien.
For some reason, she fails to note my theory, mentioned on this blog, that Beowulf is “refugee literature.” I’ve also been inclined to give credence to theories that Beowulf’s “Geatish” tribe may have been someone other than the Gotlanders. Johnston states flatly that they were Goths. But that may be because she knows more about the subject than I do, hard as that may be to believe.
I did catch what I think are couple small errors. She says the spear was the symbol of a free man — I’m pretty sure it was the seax. A spear is what a slave would be most likely to carry. She also speaks of Vikings wielding “two-headed fighting axes.” That should be “two-handed fighting axes.” They never fought with double-bitted axes.
But those are the sort of small mistakes you’ll find in any book — even mine. All things considered, this is an excellent introduction to a wonderfully alien work of literature. I recommend it.