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 vaguely remember reading the Beowulf saga in high school and not being overly excited about it. It was dark, disturbing and frankly, pretty harsh towards women. I’d also watched a rather gory and gruesome movie version that my husband wanted to see. I was still not a fan.
Now I’m happy to say that I have a much more favorable opinion of the story, thanks to this new version from Susan Signe Morrison. By giving us the tale from the female perspective, she has managed to put a completely different spin on it for me. Her beautiful mastery of the language has brought the characters to life for me. These strong women truly were the steel backbone of the society. I enjoyed reading about their daily lives as well as the bigger, pivotal moments and events.
The lyrics and prose that the author included in the book added to the imagery she created. Susan’s obvious expertise and wealth of knowledge in medieval history is very apparent in the details. Her love of the subject shines through in her writing. I especially enjoyed her treatment of the peace-weaving ritual. Her inclusion of this detailed rite, along with the obvious Celtic and Norse influences have really captured my imagination. Herbal crafts have always been a major interest of mine as well. The descriptions of these historically “women’s” crafts added to my delight in the story.
I’m so glad that I was able to review this book for the tour. Ms. Morrison has opened my mind to actually go ahead and revisit the original Beowulf and see if I have softened towards this epic story.
Out of 5 jewels, I give this one 3.5 out of 5.
About the Author
Susan 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.
To win one of two copies of Grendel’s Mother by Susan Signe Morrison please enter the giveaway via the GLEAM form below.
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**Disclaimer** – I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. Thank you to the author and Amy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for including me on this book tour.