Classroom Teaching Guide
Beowulf by Gareth Hinds
Gareth Hinds’ Beowulf is a new version of an ancient story. He takes the plot and characters from the epic poem and brings them to life in the form of a graphic novel. In a hundred and twenty pages, you can experience the essence of Beowulf’s extraordinary story, from his first fight with Grendel to his final fight with the dragon. With Hinds’ adaptation, the text takes the background, leaving the dark and bold illustrations in center stage. The images alone tell a harrowing story, with the text offering just enough context to highlight the gravity of every single fight.
In Hinds’ own view, working on Beowulf gave him “the chance to explore one of the traditional comic-book genres – the superhero story – in a more timeless way, without the skintight suits and some of the other wacky conventions of that genre”. The graphic adaptation is a wonderful amalgamation of old and new, a perfect tool for exploring all sorts of ideas and themes in the classroom.
Beowulf is, among many things, a testament to the power of story-telling and to the impact that certain stories have on us. It is a legendary story of resilience, heroism, and the human spirit. The original story has been used in classrooms for decades, but adding the graphic novel to the curriculum brings the possibility for all sorts of new discussions and projects.
Grade Level Recommendations
This title is best suited for older high school students or college students due to its violent images and sometimes complicated language.
Beowulf is violent and bloody. While a lot of the violence is focused around the monsters in the story, there is plenty of violence against the humans in the story as well. However, if your students can handle a bit of gore, this story is a worthy read.
- When Beowulf first introduces himself, he says, “I am Beowulf, kinsman to King Hygelac. Many deeds of note have I done in my life.” Does this come off as pretentious to students, or does it potentially display a different character trait?
- What might be significant about the order in which Beowulf faces his foes? Does it matter that the dragon comes after Grendel and Grendel’s mother? Why or why not?
- Compare each of Beowulf’s foes. What is unique about each one? What might they have in common? See if your students can explore them as fully-developed characters, rather than just monsters for Beowulf to slay.
- Ask students to brainstorm why this story might be so popular, even after hundreds of years. What specific elements are appealing or classical in nature?
- What do the small amounts of text convey? Do they provide a certain tone or backdrop for the images? Does the writing feel like mythical or legendary writing, or does it feel more modern and contemporary?
- In the first two fights, Beowulf fights alone. In the final fight, Beowulf is accompanied by Wiglaf. What might be the significance of this, or of Wiglaf’s overall character?
- The three chapters in the book have titles, which can be found on Hinds’ website. Chapter 1 is titled “With Grimmest Gripe”, Chapter 2 is “Gear of War”, and Chapter 3 is “Doom of Glory”. What can students glean from these titles? Why might they have been left out of the final book?
- Similar to action sequences in movies, there are long chunks of time in the book without any text. There’s just the images on the page. What effect does this have? What do these extended sequences suggest about the larger story, about the characters involved?
- The first full-page illustration we see of Beowulf is on the page opposite the Author’s Note. This illustration shows an older, beaten down Beowulf from the last chapter of the story. What effect does placing this image at the very beginning have on the rest of the story?
- Look at the image towards the end of chapter two, where Beowulf emerges from the moors covered in blood, with a broken sword and the head of Grendel in his mouth. Examine the fine details on this page, like Beowulf’s facial expression and the expression on Grendel’s disembodied head. What do these details convey? Is there more to it than abject horror?
- The last chapter of the book has a completely different color scheme than the first two. Colors are much more subdued and less numerous. What is significant about this? What might this imply about the events in that part of the story?
- Ask students to point out the images they find to be the most beautiful, as well as the most terrifying. Discuss the emotional impacts of these images.
- Introduce students to the Hero’s Journey, or the monomyth, which is a common template for how heroic stories are generally structured. This link may be helpful in explaining the concept of the monomyth: http://mythologyteacher.com/documents/TheHeroJourney.pdf
- Ask students to write out the elements of the Hero’s Journey that they see in See how well it fits with the structure. Does this surprise your students? Why or why not?
- Have students create their own comic strip based on another text they’ve read. It can be a single panel or a longer project, like a full page. Allow students to use their preferred mediums – some students may want to create the strip digitally or with photos rather than drawing or painting.
- Ask students to create their own backstory for one of the foes. This can be a short creative project, possibly just one or two pages in length. Have them answer what it would really be like inside the head of one of these characters. What is daily life like for them?
- Consider having students read a translation of the original poem in order to compare the graphic novel and a version of the original text, such as Seamus Heaney’s translation or Francis Gummere’s, which Hinds references in the Author’s Note.
- Look at Gareth Hinds’ other graphic adaptations of classics. You can compare these with their original texts, or just discuss the adaptations. Gareth Hinds’ other graphic novel adaptations include The Odyssey, The Stories and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe, Macbeth, and King Lear.
- Examine more modern interpretations of the epic poem, such as the 2007 film or the 1971 novel by John Gardner, Grendel.