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The Anglo Saxon World: An Anthology–Kevin Crossley-Holland

16/03/2012

The Anglo-Saxon World is an anthology of Anglo-Saxon writings that include the epic poem Beowulf, as well as other poetry, laws, prose, laws, letters and other writings.

I was actually looking for Kevin Crossley-Holland’s book on Norse myths, but in my black hole of a bookcase of course I couldn’t find it and this one popped out instead. In the mood for something a little different, inspired by listening to some music, I decided to read this out of curiosity. I didn’t actually think I would enjoy it quite so much, rather I expected to find it interesting which isn’t the same as enjoying something.

This book contains an eclectic mix of documents that give you an insight into Anglo-Saxon life and their way of thinking. Kevin Crossley-Holland introduces each section in a way that gives you the context of the piece, but without too much information. There are no annotations within the text itself. As a book, it offers a rather simple introduction to reading selected pieces of writing from this era without burdening it with academic discussion. This allows the reader to simply enjoy what they read for what it is.

I never expected to read Beowulf – epic poetry, in fact any poetry has never really been something that has interested me. More so it completely daunts me and initially I thought it would be too deep and heavy for me to understand. The translation of Beowulf in this book is by Kevin Crossley-Holland himself – as well as being the editor of the book he is the translator of the Anglo-Saxon poetry included in this collection. It is very easy to read and actually, immensely enjoyable. I was surprised at how vivid and beautiful the writing was, despite it being over 1000 years old.

I have always had a curiosity about the Anglo Saxon period in the history of Britain, but cannot really say I know too much about it. I have always liked what I’ve heard about Alfred the Great,  a truly magnificent king by al accounts. I think reading this book has definitely made me want to go out and read more about this era, especially during King Alfred’s time. The parts I really enjoyed were the writings of Bede and his account of St. Cuthbert’s final days of life. I also enjoyed reading the extract from Asser’s biography of King Alfred the Great. I am I confess, not a great fan of poetry so though I did not enjoy those so much, I did like the heroic poems at the start of this collection.

Christianity was fairly new to England and it was still making it’s way through Europe and a vastly pagan population. The invading Vikings still had their own Gods. Much of the writing in this book is of course to do with the church (considering they would have been the most literate at the time and likely to to record anything.) It is a fascinating perspective into the people of the time and how life must have been like, their worries and concerns.

I would like to read more from the writings of Bede and Asser. I’d also like to read more about Viking history and Scandinavia, considering how much we were at war with them back in those days. It’s so interesting reading a first hand account of people who actually lived during these times, many of them actually quite personal and normal-sounding.

Kevin Crossley-Holland is one of my favourite young adult authors and I can see from reading the poetry from this selection, where he has taken his inspiration from for his stories and poetic writing style. His Arthur trilogy, starting with The Seeing Stone is one of my favourite books along with the rest of that series. What I like about him is that his passion and is natural interest in the history of a place, in language and in the wildness of nature, shines through his fiction.

Thanks to him, I would like to re-read Beowulf, perhaps buying the individual edition that would come with notes so I could understand it better the second time around. I would like to read more from this era – more original historical writings not just history books.

At some point I’ll probably look through this again and read some of the poems once more. Admittedly by the end my patience with them was running out. They were all good, but as I said – poetry isn’t really my thing. It has piqued my interest for further reading. I recently bought the Icelandic Eddas which I am now looking forward even more to reading.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. 16/03/2012 11:40

    Thanks for posting this review, I’ll look out for his non-fiction work from now on. From his writing, I guessed that he liked history but I had no idea that he was an authority on this period.

    Have you always been interested in history?

  2. 16/03/2012 13:24

    Hello and thanks for commenting. 🙂

    I’d say that I am interested in history but I haven’t really pursued it in great depth or detail. I enjoy reading articles or watching documentaries but haven’t really read a lot of books on history. Nothing really focused either… I seem to pick up non-fiction books in random puffs of curiosity. One day slavery, next minute one on WW2, then terrorism.

    I think this is KCH’s only non-fiction book on this subject. He has separate publications of Beowulf and the Exeter Book of Riddles which also appear in here… His book on Norse myths are ones that I believe he has translated and retold himself.

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