In this retelling of the story of Beowulf, Sutcliff yet again spares none of her powers in creating gorgeous and poetic prose. The book is probably close to the same length as the original poem, and entirely the same in content, with only a few small changes and a few slight shifts in order. For the most part, though, the book is a slightly expanded version of the story, with most of the expansion having to do with more personal touches than we get in the original poem. Beowulf as a character is described a bit more, and therefore seems more real. However, Sutcliff stays very close to the original source; the biggest asset to this retelling, therefore, is her gorgeous prose style.
Morally, it’s about the same as the original classic — a mix, but not much either way. References to “wyrd”, or Fate, are fairly frequent, and there are a few references to the “All-Father”, but mostly it’s not focused on religion, either pagan or Christian. The mini-sermons of the original are gone. The epic itself does have a pagan feel for all the Christian surface décor, and this retelling somewhat reflects that, although the pessimistic end is lightened (no visions of destruction and hopelessness in the same way as in the original).
As an introduction to the story of Beowulf, this book is worthwhile. Since it’s basically the same as the original in story and length, it doesn’t seem only focused toward youth, although based on the book’s format (illustrations and a dubious cover), it was meant to be directed toward a younger audience. For once the description on the back of the book sums it up very well; told in Sutcliff’s beautiful style, “it is a story to feed the imagination powerfully, and fill the mind with a trembling awe”.