The best books on Beowulf

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Beowulf and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Beowulf

By Seamus Heaney (translator),

Book cover of Beowulf

If you want a heart-stopping superhero tale, this is it! Beowulf is the tale of a valiant knight and his conquest of the monster Grendel, told with bone-crunching drama! This story is an ancient Scandinavian hero saga, translated for this book by the poet Seamus Heaney. A recent edition includes pictures to give the reader a visual sense of Viking culture.


Who am I?

George Hagen is a Brooklyn writer who has written two adventure books for children about talking ravens. Hagen lived on three different continents by the time he was eleven, and developed a tremendous passion for folktales of all cultures from Africa, Egypt, Greece, Europe, and Celtic and Norse myth. His children's books were inspired by the myth of the Viking God Odin whose two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, flew around the land of ice and fire, reporting all the news. Hagen has appeared before hundreds of students, unraveling the secret mystery of riddles (modern and ancient) at schools from New York to Los Angeles.


I wrote...

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle

By George Hagen,

Book cover of Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle

What is my book about?

A tangle of ingenious riddles, a malevolent necklace called a torc, and flocks of fearsome, immortal valravens: these are just some of the obstacles that stand between Gabriel and his father, Adam Finley, who has vanished from their Brooklyn brownstone. When Gabriel answers a raven's riddle, he begins a journey to rescue his father who is being held captive by the evil demon Corax—half man, half raven—in a foreboding underworld of birds called Aviopolis. With the help of his best friends Abby, Somes & Pamela, Gabriel solves riddles, crosses chasms, and duels the demon ruler of the valravens.

The Legendary Inge

By Kate Stradling,

Book cover of The Legendary Inge

I literally guffawed as I read this—enough times that my kids begged me to read it to them (which I did). This retelling of Beowulf played with expectations, twisting and turning in unexpected ways. The characters were fully fleshed out, with plenty of faults and quirks. No one was who I thought they were. Intrigue, magic, and stubborn independence mixed to make this delightful tale. 


Who am I?

One of my favorite sections in the library is the collections of folk and fairy tales. Especially the lesser-known tales. My novel, Vasilisa, is inspired by the Russian folktale Vasilisa and Staver, plus my question of “how did Vasilisa get so strong?” I love combining folk tales with extensive research of the culture and history of their settings, as well as delving into characters who have vastly different experiences than mine. And I love reading character and detail-rich novelizations of traditional tales. It was difficult to pick only five novels based on lesser-known fairy tales. Enjoy, then go find some others!


I wrote...

Vasilisa

By M.L. Farb,

Book cover of Vasilisa

What is my book about?

Vasilisa has always been strong. She’s strong enough to break the arm of the bully that daily taunts her. She won’t because she and her mother are servants at the Orlov manor, and her mother would be punished for her retaliation. Instead, Vasilisa bides her time until she is sixteen and can return to the forest. Only Staver, the master’s son, shows her kindness. His friendship pulls as strong as the forest, but their classes are divided forever by law. She is a forest-born, fatherless servant and her future at the manor holds mockery-filled drudgery.

War threatens. The forest calls. Will she stay to protect the one who can never be more than a friend, or flee to the peace that the forest offers?

Beowulf

By Seamus Heaney,

Book cover of Beowulf

Beowulf is fascinating because it was written in Angle-land, probably Suffolk, probably in the 900s AD, when the Angles (Southern Scandinavians) held sway, with the Danes in Northumbria and Mercia, before the Anglo Saxons began to create the first truly English dynasty in Alfred the Great. It tells of a hero from Geats (in modern Sweden, possibly in the 600s AD) who rids the king of the Danes of the monster Grendel. Of all the translations Seamus Heany is the most vigorous and beautiful, and I often return to it as a reference.


Who am I?

I write about mythology, history, art, music, and cosmology. I also write science fiction. Mythology for me is an expression of a people trying to explain the world around them within the limits of their own knowledge. We are the same. Our search to understand the origins of the universe are limited by our language and mathematics, as were the Scandinavians who discovered countries for the first time, always expanding their horizons and adapting their legends accordingly. The Vikings had a rare vitality that sprang from every mythic tale and I love to explore both the deep origins of their worldview, and their influence in the cultures of today.


I wrote...

Norse Myths

By Jake Jackson (editor),

Book cover of Norse Myths

What is my book about?

Vikings are probably the greatest warriors of the Western world. A fierce, passionate people the various tribes that spearheaded the Scandinavian invasions harried and burned a path through Europe and far beyond. From the early Medieval years, they fundamentally affected the culture of Russia, France, Britain, and sought gold, trade, and farmland as far as the Americas and Arabia, North Africa, and Asia. They were deeply religious with powerful Gods such as Odin, Thor, and Loki whose muscular exploits have fuelled the superhero phenomenon of today, with their classic heroic themes of conquest, friendship, fate, and loyalty.

This book is an excellent introduction and part of a series on popular mythology offering the dramatic tales of myths from traditions around the world.

Grendel

By John Gardner,

Book cover of Grendel

“And so begins the twelfth year of my idiotic war.” Gardner packs a lot into this slim beautiful volume about a monster’s quest for the point of it all. Grendel’s consciousness starts evolving the moment he realizes that he is a thing apart from the rollicking Danes and the Geatish hero, Beowulf. But what? He tries to discover a purpose to his otherness. (“My advice to you, my violent friend, is to seek out gold and sit on it,” is the rather unhelpful advice of the all-knowing dragon.) Poignant, funny, brutal, and poetic, this was my first introduction to stories told by a monster and remains the gold standard.


Who am I?

My mother was a student who divorced when I was very small. Lacking resources, we moved frequently, rarely staying anywhere for more than a few months. It has left me with an abiding sympathy for stories of outsiders trying to figure out what exactly they did to be relegated to the other side of the glass, peering in. This is why when I decided to write about werewolves, I made them wolves first and humans only very secondarily. Because my sympathy is always with the monsters.


I wrote...

The Last Wolf

By Maria Vale,

Book cover of The Last Wolf

What is my book about?

Silver Nilsdottir is at the bottom of the Great North Pack's social order, with little chance for a decent mate and a better life. Until the day a stranger stumbles into their territory, wounded and beaten, and Silver decides to risk everything on Tiberius Leveraux. But Tiberius isn't all he seems, and in the fragile balance of the Pack and wild, he may tip the destiny of all wolves. 

A double Rita finalist and a Library Journal and Amazon Best Book of 2018, The Last Wolf is the first volume in The Legend of All Wolves paranormal romance series. Vulnerable and strong, courageous and afraid, the wolves of the Great North will fight to the end for their pack, their land, their loves and their sacred wild.

When They Severed Earth from Sky

By Elizabeth Wayland Barber, Paul T. Barber,

Book cover of When They Severed Earth from Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth

When I first read this book, not only was I struck by its central theme that ‘myths’ have meaning but also by the fact that it is our problem that we cannot today recognize myths for what they once were. All oral traditions evolve through time, sometimes over thousands of years and across hundreds of generations of retelling, but if their core is sufficiently memorable, then it can remain recognizable. It is up to us to unpack the stories we hear today, to learn how they changed through time, and try to see whether there is an empirical core in their hearts. This book is a must for anyone interested in learning more about the meaning of ‘myth’ rather than romanticizing it.


Who am I?

Becoming immersed in oral cultures was a massive wake-up call for me! Taught to privilege the written over the spoken word, as most literate people are, it took me years of living in the Pacific Islands, travelling regularly to their remoter parts, to appreciate that people who could neither read nor write could retain huge amounts of information in their heads – and explain it effortlessly. We undervalue orality because we are literate, but that is an irrational prejudice. And as I have discovered from encounters with oral traditions throughout Australia and the Pacific, India, and northwest Europe, not only are oral traditions extensive but may be thousands of years old.


I wrote...

The Edge of Memory: Ancient Stories, Oral Tradition and the Post-Glacial World

By Patrick Nunn,

Book cover of The Edge of Memory: Ancient Stories, Oral Tradition and the Post-Glacial World

What is my book about?

For almost all the time that modern humans (like us) have roamed the earth’s surface, we have communicated our knowledge about our surroundings without the aid of the written word.  Sometimes today we forget this. We assume our pre-literate ancestors must have survived by luck, given they were unable to read or write. 

The Edge of Memory addresses this mistaken belief, showing that our ancestors systematically encoded their observations into oral traditions and passed them on from one generation to the next so effectively that some remain understandable today even after thousands and thousands of years have passed. By dismissing such memories as ‘myth and legend’, we not merely diminish our ancestors’ legacy but also hinder our ability to cope with an uncertain future.

Silverlock

By John Myers Myers,

Book cover of Silverlock

Most people don't even know about this book. Written in 1946, it's just a little older than I am. I read it years ago and was delighted by Myers' world woven from existing fantasy and legend. I also use what has worked before to make my own books both familiar and new. How convenient when you have a perfectly fantastic cauldron of long-held material completely free for the taking. I, as did Myers, took full advantage of the vast pool of wonderful existing ideas. “Silverlock” certainly showed me I could freely dip from the pool and just twist it a bit to fit my own tale.


Who am I?

I'm a normal human being who fell in love with the world of magic and fantasy at an early age. My favorite and first books comprised a multi-volume set of fairy tales, legends, and mythology. At the University of Oregon, my dual degree in English and Computer science taught me how to write and also provided a 35-year career in the burgeoning world of personal computers and software. I'm retired but now I write what I love—fantasy, fairy tales, magic. I have 12 published books, 9 of those also in audio format. The boring details: I was born in Eugene, Oregon and now live there in retirement.


I wrote...

The Compleat and True History of the Witches of Galdorheim

By Marva Dasef,

Book cover of The Compleat and True History of the Witches of Galdorheim

What is my book about?

After 10 years in print as individual books, the Witches of Galdorheim saga is now presented with every word of the four books and one short story comprising the entire series. Beginning with Bad Spelling, Katrina the klutzy witch searches for answers. Why can't she perform proper magic when she has the power and how does she find her magic in her journeys across the icy landscape of Norway, Finland, the Ural Mountains, Siberia, Atlantis, and the Scottish Highlands.

Nico Bravo and the Hound of Hades

By Mike Cavallaro,

Book cover of Nico Bravo and the Hound of Hades

Usually I pick out books for my kids, not this one though. My youngest picked this up at the library and loved it so much he told me that I just had to read it, and I’m glad I did! I love mythology and Cavallaro did such a great job taking classic myths and monsters and turning them on their head. Plus, there’s a sword that teleports your enemy’s skeleton into outer space, how great is that?!


Who am I?

I’m a stay-at-home working dad, and have handed my boys countless books to keep them entertained so I could get some work done. There’s something magical about giving your kid a book that sparks their love of reading. In my own experience, adventure books that made my boys laugh out loud would captivate my kids for hours…and keep them out of my hair.


I wrote...

Star Scouts

By Mike Lawrence,

Book cover of Star Scouts

What is my book about?

Avani is the new kid in town, and she’s not happy about it. Everyone in school thinks she’s weird, especially the girls in her Flower Scouts troop. Is it so weird to think scouting should be about fun and adventure, not about makeovers and boys, boys, boys?

But everything changes when Avani is “accidentally” abducted by a spunky alien named Mabel. Mabel is a scout too—a Star Scout. Collecting alien specimens (like Avani) goes with the territory, along with teleportation and jetpack racing. Avani might be weird, but in the Star Scouts she fits right in. If she can just survive Camp Andromeda, and keep her dad from discovering that she’s left planet Earth, she’s in for the adventure of a lifetime.

Monster Theory

By Jeffrey Jerome Cohen,

Book cover of Monster Theory: Reading Culture

There aren’t many discussions in my field that don’t at least nod to, if not begin with, Cohen’s contribution, "Monster Culture". Cohen lays out a way to think about monsters as embodiments of culture that has been invaluable to their study, a way to “mine” monsters for the cultural “gold” from which they are made. While the field has expanded since Cohen, it should be the starting point for anyone seriously interested in monstrosity. There are also stand-out chapters on a variety of topics, from Frankenstein and Jurassic Park to Beowulf and the perception of medieval Muslim monstrosity. 


Who am I?

What could possibly captivate the mind more than monsters? As a kid, I eagerly consumed books from authors like R.L. Stine, Stephen King, and HP Lovecraft. I watched George Romero, Wes Craven, and John Carpenter, and played games like Dungeons and Dragons, Vampire: The Masquerade, and The Call of Cthulhu. When I discovered monster studies in my PhD years—a way to read monsters as cultural productions that tell us something about the people that create them—I was hooked. Ever since, I get to continue reading my favorite books, watching my favorite movies, and playing my favorite games. It’s just that now someone’s paying me to do it.


I wrote...

Margaret's Monsters: Women, Identity, and the Life of St. Margaret in Medieval England

By Michael E. Heyes,

Book cover of Margaret's Monsters: Women, Identity, and the Life of St. Margaret in Medieval England

What is my book about?

Margaret’s Monsters explores the monstrous features of the Life of one of the most popular saints in medieval England. Analyzing these monsters helps modern readers to understand what, at first, appears to be a paradox: that Margaret was both a patron saint to lifelong virgins and the patron saint of mothers in labor. I show that changes to the monsters of Margaret’s Life—the dragon that swallows her whole, the black demon who invades her prison cell, and Olibrius, a monster in human guise—allow authors to speak to specific audiences, to tailor Margaret’s message to small populations of people, and fundamentally change Margaret’s role as a saint. These changes allowed medieval women to make use of this remarkable saint to shape their sexuality and gender roles. 

Eaters of the Dead

By Michael Crichton,

Book cover of Eaters of the Dead

Michael Crichton is the only author I’ve selected for my list whose name is likely to be known to most readers. Eaters of the Dead isn’t generally considered to be one of his greatest works, but for me, it’s probably the most influential novel I’ve read (going back to early school hood days). Essentially a retelling of Beowulf (an English poem but a Scandinavian story), Crichton made the tale fresh for a modern audience, setting it in the Viking Age (rather than the Vendel Period) and introduced Ibn Fadlan, an actual historic person, as the main narrator and character. Crichton stripped away the full-blown fantasy elements of monsters and dragons, making it more plausible while staying true to the original. Great fun and a wonderful twist on the old poem. 


Who am I?

Mostly, I’m a writer of (hopefully) humorous books and articles largely focused on Vikings and Norse mythology, but I also write non-fiction articles about Scandinavian history, art, and culture. I’ve always been fascinated with the Viking Age, and read as much fiction and non-fiction on the subject as I am able. I’ve discovered many great novels dealing with the “whole Northern thing” (W.H. Auden’s term for Tolkien’s fascination) ranging from realistic historic fiction to highly original urban fantasy that utilizes the standard Norse tropes, but truly imaginative retellings that remain faithfully grounded in the plot points of the ancient stories are rarer. These are my favorites. 


I wrote...

The Scandinavian Aggressors

By Rowdy Geirsson,

Book cover of The Scandinavian Aggressors

What is my book about?

The Scandinavian Aggressors is an offbeat odyssey into the freezing heart of the modern Northlands full of fatalistic quips and self-deprecating jokes, allusions to Norse mythology and the sagas, and informative and factual commentary about Nordic geography, history, and culture.

Structured around a series of quirky escapades, the book takes readers on an unusual journey to encounter enslaved leprechauns, beheaded mermaids, elite warrior sisterhoods, dysfunctional dragon-slayers, perverted trolls, and craft-beer-brewing zombies.

The Shadow of Memory

By Connie Berry,

Book cover of The Shadow of Memory

First of all, it’s a mystery set in England and I love anything set in England, and if I were going to start over anywhere, and leave New York, which I will not do, it would be to go to England. So immediately I’m intrigued, and the details about Long Barston, Suffolk are just wonderful. But mainly I love Kate Hamilton, the protagonist of Berry’s novel, who is a smart (the sort of person who tells Beowulf jokes if she drinks too much), good-hearted, antiques appraiser who is starting over with a new husband, new job, new mother-in-law and new life. She feels like a friend, and I’m glad to go on her second chance journey with her. 


Who am I?

Something important I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that you get way more second chances than you might imagine. When I was young, I thought that every wrong decision would destroy the rest of my life. But now, as I hack my way through my sixties, I see so many surprising twists and turns my life has taken, most of them coming out of failure. In fact, the only things I truly regret are the times I played it safe. So I love books where people screw up, seem to be defeated, and then, voila, a ghost shows up! Or maybe a professional assassin. You just don’t know. 


I wrote...

Maggie Dove: A Mystery

By Susan Breen,

Book cover of Maggie Dove: A Mystery

What is my book about?

Maggie Dove suffered a terrible tragedy when her only child died twenty years ago. Since then, she’s been unable to move past the cold wall of grief that surrounds her. Until one day, Maggie finds her wretched neighbor’s dead body lying under the oak tree on her front lawn. The prime suspect is Peter Nelson, an angry young man who was in love with her daughter, many years ago.

Maggie loves Peter and is desperate to prove him innocent. So she forces herself back out into the world of her small Hudson Valley village, and as she investigates, she is swept up into adventure and romance. And danger. She finds herself with a second chance at life. Does she have the courage to grab it? 

Or, view all 10 books about Beowulf

New book lists related to Beowulf

All book lists related to Beowulf

Bookshelves related to Beowulf