cover image The Tower of Beowulf

The Tower of Beowulf

Parke Godwin. William Morrow & Company, $23 (246pp) ISBN 978-0-688-12738-1

Fantasy literature tends to recycle its settings and themes, so it's greatly refreshing when a sword and sorcery novel appears that avoids the formulaic pitfalls of the genre. In this case, Godwin accomplishes the feat through a compelling exploration of an ancient classic, much as he did in Robin and the King. Because the outcome of Beowulf's adventures are rarely in question, Godwin must make the story exciting without relying on plot-driven suspense. He does this by rendering his characters' motivations, especially those of the monsters, so vivid and heart-wrenching that at times readers will find themselves rooting for Grendel and his mother, Sigyn (though this version of the tale can't compare to Gardner's powerful Grendel). Godwin also layers this most basic of man-kills-beast tales with insights into the superficiality of beauty and the differing mysticisms of the Norse and Christian mythologies, and he offers a well-reasoned interpretation of what makes a hero. If the historical background is sometimes rendered with more imagination than fidelity, Godwin's interpretation of the legend still makes for a gripping saga. (Sept.)