Where have you been all my life?

MISTY_MOUNDSFalling in love with a new book is a billion different kinds of magic. I have cracked open that door and got my foot in the world and, even though I’m still suffering through the usual challenges, I have a lovely sense of rightness that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

As you’ve no doubt gathered, I’m basing many of my ideas for this book on Anglo-Saxon England, and one thing I’m really getting caught up in at the moment is the poetry of the time. You must understand, I had my first exposure to Anglo-Saxon poetry (sometimes called Old English poetry) 12 or 13 years ago in my undergraduate medieval studies minor. At the time, my response was “meh”. I mean, I liked Beowulf (there are monsters: what’s not to like?). But in general it seemed a little plain, even mundane. Then, while doing my master’s, I was part of an Anglo-Saxon reading group who spent months translating parts of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle and The Battle of Maldon. Again, meh.

So imagine my surprise, on revisiting it this time, to find all the meh gone. Where I thought there was kind of a detached bluntness, I now found a weighty strangeness. The split alliterative line… oh, my! What drama and measure there is in it! Discovering the beauty in it is like having a platonic relationship with someone your whole life, then suddenly looking at them and realising they are made of awesome. And falling hard, hard, hard in love. At the moment, my favourite poem is The Wanderer (click here if you want to hear it read to you in Anglo-Saxon). I must have read it ten times this week alone. Tolkien fans my recognise the adapted lines from it: “Where is the horse and where the rider?” (Aragorn sings it in The Two Towers, Theoden says it in the movie version).

So what is a girl loved up on Anglo-Saxon culture to do? Well, head off to England of course! I am dragging my family off to face a northern winter and investigate various sites and monuments (that’s the Sutton Hoo mounds in the picture). Oh, the kids are going to love it. That was irony.

5 thoughts on “Where have you been all my life?

  1. Love this post. You sound like a woman in love with her new book. Can feel the enthusiasm leaping off the page. So happy for you. Was going to write ‘excited that you’ve found your nemesis’, but then realised the word ‘nemesis’ wasn’t what I thought it meant. I mean, I’m glad that you’ve found your ‘groove’. There must be a better word than that! Anyway, no time to look it up. Have to get onto some work. Most unusual hearing this poem read in the Anglo-Saxon tongue. Love the work ‘meh’. lol. Joanna :))

  2. I also did Anglo-Saxon and Middle English translations for my undergraduate degree. I adored both of them from the outset though!

    It’s interesting how this stuff must live under your skin – at least one of the women from ‘Women in Docs’ studied the Middle English subject here at JCU in Townsville and found inspiration from it that then translated to their songs. [Not sure if she is still in the band though – she went through a couple of years before me].

    A really cold winter – ooohhh, that’s actually something to envy as well!! Still lusting for a decent copy of the Exeter Riddles in Anglo-Saxon…

    Jen B

  3. My favourite’s still The Ruin. Loved it even in the first uptight translation I read in one of those stupid polystyrene boxes in Michie Building, then read it once at Housesteads Fort on Hadrian’s Wall on midsummer’s midnight and it’s hardwired into me now 🙂

    Take The Wanderer to the sea while you’re here, on a grotty December day and the skin’ll lift on the back of your neck. And The Battle of Maldon works well at Sutton Hoo – think it’s the estuary and the reddish hills and the general lordliness of the place.


  4. Wow, what a great website! (Though his rolled ‘r’ sound brings to mind Boss Nass from The Phantom Menace, which is sadly distracting.)

    I know many people whose reaction to Beowulf was just “meh,” but for me, discovering it during Literary Classics in first semester was like finally being introduced to an exciting world that I’d always admired but never quite had the courage to enter. (So much so that I now have a recording of it in Anglo-Saxon on my ipod. Sitting on a bus listening to Beowulf may just be the geekiest thing I’ve ever done.)

    I’m really pleased that I can indulge my Anglo-Saxon fangirl obsession at university, both through history and linguistics. I blame my enthusiasm on the fact that I spent four years of my early childhood living in England, and that the first things I ever remember learning in history were stories about Angles, Saxons, Vikings and Normans.

    I hope you enjoy your trip to England! I’m definitely looking forward to the new book. =]

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