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I’ve been looking forward to Stephen Mitchell’s translation of Beowulf ever since I heard it was coming. I’ve enjoyed several of his other works, and this tale seemed like it was right up his alley. His version is a model of clarity and narrative drive, and he retains enough of the technical features of the original to give a sense of Anglo-Saxon poetry. Most of all he manages to convey the sadness that seems to cling to every line of the poem: a world-weariness that pervades the most exciting battle scenes.
As an audiobook, it suffers from Mitchell’s narration. In his attempt to be clear and understated, he’s managed to compress everything into the same matter-of-fact tone. Beowulf the poem includes single combat, battle sequences, meadhall celebrations, bardic songs, betrayal and grief. Mitchell’s text captures all of this beautifully. But Mitchell’s voice stays on the same (un)emotional level throughout.
I plan to listen to it again, and to evaluate the translation in print. It’s a worthwhile outing, but I wish it was a more dramatic audio experience.
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