We just wrapped up a little series breaking down the history of the English language. You can read the final post of that series here, and go back through the earlier posts.
Today we are going to do a more hands on exploration of this history. That’s right, we’re going to explore original historical texts.
Text Vs Screen
At this point I feel like you guys might think I think I’m some kind of English teacher, but I don’t. I’m just an author and book lover. I’m here for all things bookish, and I want to help you be too.
I think these books are actually interesting, and I think you will too. We just have to approach them in a fun way.
That’s why I’m pairing original English classics of each time period of the language with movies that help illustrate the story. I think pairing a visual movie with a textual book is a great way to approach older books you aren’t confident you can read on their own- that’s how I got started reading Pride and Prejudice and realized it’s actually an amazing book. (I watched it with the 2005 version starring Keira Knightley, and I prefer it infinitely over many more beloved and well known screen adaptations as it’s the best paced version I’ve seen so far.)
For the first installment in this sequel series, we are going to again go back to where English began.
Beowulf is an epic poem, and the earliest piece of English writing that has still survived. Back when the Anglo-Saxons, the three Germanic tribes that invaded the Celtic island we today call England, set up their new territory, a lot was going on in their lives. They were of the Germanic tribes- remembering of course that Germany was one of the last European countries to become a country and most of their history was a bunch of different tribal groups- but they also had roots with the Vikings and Danes and Dutch and a lot of different cultures that grew out of the earliest form of Germany.
Beowulf is an epic (epic=poem that tells a story and is often as long as a book) that details a great hero fighting to save his people. You can read a translation of the original book. You can find free copies of old classic books like this in Amazon, Nook, and Google Play; or you can check out a physical copy from most libraries. You can also read a side by side translation and interpretation by Seamus Heaney by clicking here.
I’d pair the classic with the move Beowulf and Grendel. It cuts out the magical elements of the original story and it makes it more of an action story than a grand fable, but it is one of the closest screen adaptations of the story that is also entertaining to watch.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles
Meant to be sort of like a summary of their history, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles was a seven volume series written to be mostly factual. Remember, just like today, “historically accurate” can change a little bit depending on who is retelling the story. That said it’s an interesting tale.
If you want to read this I definitely DO NOT recommend going through all seven books. Unless you are a historian and this is the time period of your specialty, you don’t need to go that far. Just read the abridged edition most other people have read and call it a day- rather than reading the whole thing in an entire month and being thoroughly sick of it by the end.
I’d pair this with the 2006 movie The Saxon Chronicles, which has a medium rating on IMDB. It’s an Indie film, so the trailer leaves a little to be desired, but the film itself is exactly what I want in a movie based on this time period- swords, battles, and solid plot to boot.
Bede aimed to write a book about the history of the early European Church, included his own involvement in it. A good amount of secular history is included to give us a better sense of setting as well. If you’d like to read the original you can download an ebook for free right now from the Gutenberg Project here. This edition also has some annotations- it is hard to find a very annotated version as many of them are connected to current political or religious commentary which is really not what I’m featuring this book for, so this is one of the best I could find.
You can watch this video lecture on the subject here. Unfortunately it’s a video, not a movie, but it’s still fairly interesting I think.
Which was your favorite classic?