Monday, February 7, 2011

Read Just Lately

Beowulf, translation by Sean Heaney

I reread Beowulf every few years as it is the book which put me on the road to a fascination with monsters. I read it for the first time when I was in first grade and the idea of a Dark Age hero battling hand to hand enthralled me.

Granted it was a abridged version for children (that I have since found a copy of that very same edition for my kids) but the theme was still there. I have read several different translations and treasure the Heaney version above the others-for one it is a handsome hardback but also it contains both the original olde English opposite Heaney's translation. I have used that side by side comparison to examine Heaney's prose choice and even compare the wording for the sake of my own opinions.

I reread it again because I am composing an American Beowulf as of this writing ~ Killer Instinct. Its a weird western with Porter. I've been wanting to do my own version of the epic poem and especially of Grendel for quite some time-and the time is right.

Oh yeah in regard to the review-you know I love this. Highly recommended for anyone into fantasy and heroics-DON'T think you know the story from that abominable Gaiman/Zemekis version.

Gaiman never understood the heroics and could only gripe at book signings/readings about Angelina Joile playing the demon mother of Grendel? Yeah, that made sense??? A seductress demon played by Jolie-whats the complaint Gaiman? It was your weak adaptation that ruined the story.

Read the poem-skip the movie.

Conan:The Hand of Nergal by Robert E. Howard, adapted by Timothy Truman and Tomas Giorello

This has a great foreword by Mark Finn. The art by Giorello is top notch and considering that the version I was raised on, as it were, was the posthumous Lin Carter collaboration this was pretty good-not perfect mind you but pretty good.

I instantly got the inside joke that the demon scion of Nergal- ELA D'SNAL = Lansdale as in Joe Lansdale author of Conan:Songs of the Dead, Bubba Ho-Tep and bazillion other yarns of weird fiction.

While it was interesting that Nestor the Gunderman from Hall of the Dead and Rogues in the House is back in this particular thread (albeit zombiefied) I found the climax with him rather unsatisfying-almost like what was the point of even including him? Just like Julia Roberts in Oceans 13. Neither presence really brought anything to the table.

Still it was a good adaptation and Dark Horse is king in my book right now graphic novels


The Amazing Screw-On Head (and other curious objects) by Mike Mignola

As mentioned a couple weeks ago, I am quite the fan of Mike Mignola's work-particularly Hellboy. This collection is different-it throws a collection of six strange tales together and only the first even has the Amazing Screw-On Head-who is apparently a secret service type robot serving Abraham Lincoln.

It is funny with some tongue in cheek quips and the usual Mignola fascination for odd architecture, archeology & anachronism AND it works. Mignola states there are no more Screw-On Head stories and that's a shame. I am especially interested in more for the sake of his eclectic villains~Emperor Zombie, Dr. Snap and an unnamed Vampire Madame.

Some of it may drift into strange tangents, but if you delight in the absurd and Mignola in general you will like it.

The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett

I have greatly enjoyed the movie versions of Hammett's stories (Maltese Falcon, The Silver Key) but had never actually read them-so this is a first. Its a pretty straight forward Noir, a genre Hammett spearheaded, and while Mr. Charles is no Sam Spade he is intelligent and capable, perhaps a raging alcoholic, but intriguing nonetheless.

Hammett has a way of composing dialogue that pulls you along and keeps you guessing. I have to read the Maltese Falcon and Red Harvest sometime soon.

The Book of Werewolves, by Sabine Baring-Gould

Baring-Gould is the kind of man I imagine inspired the previous authors (excepting the anonymous author of Beowulf) A prolific author, archaeologist and composer (he wrote Onward Christian Soldiers!)

He has collected here the definitive study on Werewolves. Published in 1865 it has remained an engaging read full of useful information for crypto zoologists and speculative fiction authors-I have to wonder if Robert E. Howard read the many french tales collected herein for the sake of In the Forest of Villefere and Wolfshead and I am positive Mignola has read this based off Hellboy story lines. And yes I have a couple werewolf stories up my sleeve at the moment.

Covering Lycanthropy across the ages and continents Baring-Gould leaves no stone unturned-grim as they may be. Some of these accounts are as gruesome (or worse) as anything you can imagine the worst of serial killers commit today.
The last few chapters are not for the squeamish.
But being a Parson! Baring-Gould was not writing to titillate or shock-he was giving the facts.

Inspired by his own encounter outside of Vienna, he compiled this book in an effort to understand the phenomenon. Don't write a werewolf tale without having read this.


Lagomorph Rex said...

What I've love more than anything is to get a complete recording of Julian Glover reading Beowulf in Old English.. He apparently does an interpretation but its so good I'd like to see him do the same thing.

David J. West said...

Thanks Rex. I hadn't heard about him doing a reading at all, I'll have to track it down.

Paul R. McNamee said...

Beowulf. Also a favorite and Heaney's translation is tops (and the animated movie sucked - once again Hollywood insists that the villain must have a personal connection to the hero and suddenly the dragon is Beowulf's own son - wtf? This ain't Cuchullain or Arthur - who did battle their own sons)

Screw-on Head is on my list.

I read The Thin Man in grade school (I had seen the movie and thought it funny.) I don't remember anything about it, it was so long ago. I think there are other Hammett titles I'll try before going back for a re-read.

Book of Werewolves and Montague Summers' Vampire Kith & Kin (sometimes issued as Book of Vampires) have been on my bookshelf forever - and I read library copies before I had personal copies (KIndle copies now)

David J. West said...

Right on Paul.

I can't say 'The Thin Man' was a favorite-but I cut it some slack for being a forerunner in the genre.

I've had the Book of Werewolves for years and years and am kinda kicking myself that it took so long to actually read it-I'll have to track down Montague Summers' Vampire Kith & Kin.

Charles Gramlich said...

I like Beowulf quite a lot myself. The best movie version I think was "The Thirteenth warrior."

The Golden Eagle said...

I recently read the Beowulf translation by Seamus Heaney; I enjoyed it. Never saw the version Gaiman did, and I never understood why he changed it around like that.

David J. West said...

Charles-definetly I LOVE the 13th Warrior-one of my all time favorites.

Golden Eagle-I think he was trying to give modern audiences the flawed hero thing but in so doing he weakened the story and took the magic out.

Yamile said...

Other than Beowulf, I had never heard of the other books. But I definitely want to read that werewolf book. Wow!

Yamile said...

I'm back (so soon, I know) to report that amazon is offering the kindle version of the Book of Werewolves for free! OMG! I love free books, especially ones I already wanted to read!

David J. West said...

Thank you Yamile, I appreciate that.

Th. said...


I've also read only one Hammett novel (one I actually haven't seen the movie for). I didn't think it was as great as I'd been led to expect, but I did enjoy it and Thin Man's on my shelf waiting for me to pick it up next.

David J. West said...

Th. - I still plan on reading "The Maltese Falcon" sometime soon-I've been a fan of the movie as long as I can remember-I suspect that the multiple film versions of 'The Thin Man' are a little more comedic than the book.

Th. said...


The first movie plays straighter than the others (the second is my favorite one just one of my favorite movies period). One of my favorite games is casting the inevitable reboot.

David J. West said...

I'll have to get ahold of them (especially the second then)

Reboot-growl-I usually dread those because it doesn't work MOST of the time-sometimes yes, but the odds seem against it.