115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Introducing Beowulf to "The General Reader"

Tom Schneider, California Baptist University

I will describe my recent experience of writing an introduction to Beowulf for the general readership, the challenges and joys of this task, and the role of the medieval scholar in bridging the gap between academia and the shelves of a bookstore (or Amazon).


I was recently comissioned to write an introduction to Beowulf. The greatest challenges were the following: it was supposed to be (1) for "the general reader," (2) in a "conversational tone," and (3) to an old translation in the public domain by John Earle. For someone used to writing for a small audience of medieval scholars (and used to working with very different translations), this was far from my comfort zone and offered a variety of challenges. In the process, though, I found a new kind of joy in this kind of writing about Beowulf and reflected on the role of the medieval scholar as curator, intermediary, and translator (in the broader sense than from one language to another). I found that we have more to offer than the typical academic argument we write and send to peer-reviewed journals. In this talk, I will discuss these challenges, my approaches to them, and what I believe are some applications to thinking about the role of the scholar. Part of this is also talking about translation, and I plan to draw on my experience of writing an unpublished translation of Beowulf in graduate school, during which I read most extant translations of the poem, and how to navigate this knowledge of such a wide array of Beowulfs in the context of a publisher using a single older translation. I will read very brief excerpts from my introduction to concretize some of my points.