Grendel's Mother: The Saga of the Wyrd-Wife by Susan Signe MorrisonPublication Date: September 25, 2015
Publisher:Top Hat Books
Paperback & eBook; 238 Pages
Source: Author/Publisher for an honest review
Shortlisted for the 2014-2015 Sarton Literary Award for Historical Fiction.
An amber bead. A gold and glass drinking horn. A ring engraved with Thor’s hammer – all artifacts from a Germanic tribe that carved a space for itself through brutality and violence on a windswept land . Brimhild weaves peace and conveys culture to the kingdom, until the secret of her birth threatens to tear apart the fragile political stability. This is her story – the tale of Grendel’s Mother. She is no monster as portrayed in the Old English epic, Beowulf. We learn her side of the story and that of her defamed child. We see the many passages of her life: the brine-baby who floated mysteriously to shore; the hall-queen presiding over the triumphant building of the golden hall Heorot and victim of sexual and political betrayal; the exiled mere-wife, who ekes out a marginal life by an uncanny bog as a healer and contends with the menacing Beowulf; and the seer, who prophesizes what will occur to her adopted people. We learn how the invasion by brutal men is not a fairy tale, but a disaster doomed to cycle relentlessly through human history. Only the surviving women can sing poignant laments, preserve a glittering culture, and provide hope for the future.
"What a gift! Grendel’s Mother is sure to become an integral part of every class on Beowulf." -Candace Robb, author of the Owen Archer Mystery Series and, as Emma Campion, A Triple Knot
"This fascinating narrative is to readers today what John Gardner’s Grendel was to readers of the 1970s." -Haruko Momma, Professor of English, New York University
I am usually pretty excited to read new takes on classic works, but I am especially excited when it is a feminist retelling of the Beowulf tale. Grendel's Mother is a fascinating look at the well known story from the perspective of the mother of that famous monster - who is not actually a monster.
I was captivated by the prose - which sounds and feels more like poetry, due at least in part, by the use of alliteration throughout the novel. Brimhild arrives in a woven boat/basket from the sea, much like Moses. She is a blessing to her adoptive mother who has recently lost her own child. Her story is an epic all on its own. From the lost babe to the hall-queen of Heorot to exile - Brimhild remains true to herself throughout.
Brimhild's story is tragic - because aren't all such tales? But I loved it from the start. I loved the contrast of Grendel's Mother to Beowulf - Brimhild is a wise and kind woman who always tries to do the right thing - not a monster in any way. Her son is a beautiful boy who believes he will inherit from his father. Their fall from grace is not of their doing --- the result of war and violence - an unimaginable twist to Brimhild's origin will have lasting repercussions for all.
When Beowulf shows up, I admit I was surprised and a bit amused - he is not quite the hero I remember - and I loved it. It was nice to read a very different perspective.
I am most excited about the chance to use Grendel's Mother alongside Beowulf and The Prose Edda: Tales from Norse Mythology for my kids' Great Books/History homeschool curriculum. I think they will appreciate the feminist story in contrast to the very masculine originals. I also think they will appreciate the examination of feminine life during the period.
Grendel's Mother is definitely a book that I will be recommending to any of my friends who enjoy historical fiction. I think it will appeal to anyone who enjoys Norse or Germanic tales, historical fiction in general and epic tales. I am already feeling the need to reread both Grendel's Mother and Beowulf very soon.
About the AuthorSusan Signe Morrison writes on topics lurking in the margins of history, ranging from recently uncovered diaries of a teenaged girl in World War II to medieval women pilgrims, excrement in the Middle Ages, and waste. Susan Morrison is Professor of English at Texas State University. She grew up in New Jersey by the Great Swamp, a National Wildlife Refuge with terrain not unlike that of Grendel's Mother's mere in Beowulf. Committed to bringing the lives of medieval women to a wider audience and making the ethics of waste fundamental to our study of literature, Susan can be found at grendelsmotherthenovel.com, homefrontgirldiary.com, and amedievalwomanscompanion.com and tweets @medievalwomen.
Susan's BA is from Swarthmore College and her A.M./Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Brown University. She has studied in Germany and taught in the former East Germany. Susan’s publications have appeared in such journals as The Yearbook of Langland Studies, Medievalia et Humanistica, Medieval Feminist Forum, The Chaucer Review, Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, The New York Times, Women In German Yearbook , Journal of Popular Culture , Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik, as well as numerous book chapters. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, daughter and son.
For more information visit Susan's website.
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