Winchester, UK: Top Hats Books, 2015.
An amber bead. A gold and glass drinking horn. A ring engraved with Thor’s hammer – all artifacts from a Germanic tribe that carved a space for itself through brutality and violence on a windswept land . Brimhild weaves peace and conveys culture to the kingdom, until the secret of her birth threatens to tear apart the fragile political stability. This is her story – the tale of Grendel’s Mother. She is no monster as portrayed in the Old English epic, Beowulf
. We learn her side of the story and that of her defamed child. We see the many passages of her life: the brine-baby who floated mysteriously to shore; the hall-queen presiding over the triumphant building of the golden hall Heorot and victim of sexual and political betrayal; the exiled mere-wife, who ekes out a marginal life by an uncanny bog as a healer and contends with the menacing Beowulf; and the seer, who prophesizes what will occur to her adopted people. We learn how the invasion by brutal men is not a fairy tale, but a disaster doomed to cycle relentlessly through human history. Only the surviving women can sing poignant laments, preserve a glittering culture, and provide hope for the future.
"What a gift! Grendel’s Mother is sure to become an integral part of every class on Beowulf.
~ Candace Robb, author of the Owen Archer Mystery Series and, as Emma Campion, A Triple Knot
"This fascinating narrative is to readers today what John Gardner’s Grendel was to readers of the 1970s."
~ Haruko Momma, Professor of English, New York University
"[A] powerful extension of the story and a deep and compelling glimpse into the culture that produced it
…. A medieval scholar with an impressive command of her material, Morrison embellishes this powerful narrative of a medieval woman’s rise and fall and with threads of Celtic and Germanic legend and myth—herbal medicines, mysterious charms, riddles, poetry, and lore—and sets it all within the context of overwhelming political and cultural change. Her richly evocative prose echoes the poetic structure of Old English alliterative verse…. I wish I’d had Morrison’s novel when I was teaching Beowulf
; my students would have had a much stronger sense of the real-life struggles that lay behind and created the mythic poem. Those who don’t know the poem will appreciate Morrison’s work on other levels, for Grendel’s Mother
tells a universal story of heroic dimensions through the eyes of a woman who sees and understands and deeply feels everything that happens. It is a rare glimpse into a world that is both profoundly alien and surprisingly, wrenchingly, our own
~ Susan Wittig Albert, NYT bestselling author of Loving Eleanor, A Wilder Rose, and the China Bayles Mysteries, reviewing for Story Circle Book Reviews
"Skillfully penned in a style which flows remarkably well, while masterfully incorporating an old world flair, this book transports readers to medieval Denmark and the fascinating world of Grendel
....This book reads well as a stand-alone, but would be an excellent companion piece as a prequel for those seeking greater depth, or an alternate view, of Beowulf. Grendel's Mother is highly recommended for home and school libraries and as a teaching tool for educators. This book has earned the Literary Classics Seal of Approval
~Literary Classics Seal of Approval
"Morrison gives us a fascinating account of love, family, honour, sorrow, war, tragedy, and of Gods old and new, in this beautifully written reimagining of Beowulf....One of the features of the book I enjoyed most was Morrison’s writing style
. She skilfully combines Old English alliterative verse and modern English throughout the book to give the story an Anglo Saxon flavour and a haunting, eloquent feel to the narrative
. [I]t adds depth, authenticity and character to the novel. Morrison is an Anglo-Saxonist, and professor of English literature; her talent for weaving modern language and Old English seamlessly shone through on every page. It never felt out of place.... Whether you’re a scholar of Old English, new to the subject, or just interested in early medieval historical fiction, Grendel’s Mother
is a must-read book to add to any medieval reading list
~Sandra Alvarez Medievalists.net
“[A] gritty, no-holds-barred epic….[A]n English Prof. doing ‘Conan the Barbarian’
….[S]o dramatic is the storyline that I wondered how this reinterpretation might present as a film
….Susan Morrison is a masterful guide through this Dark Age epic, as well as being an accomplished story-weaver of passion and tragedy.”
~ Andy Lloyd’s Book Reviews
In Grendel's Mother: the Saga of the Wyrd-Wife
, an emotionally rich retelling of Beowulf
, Susan Signe Morrison reveals the tragically human monsters obscured by the heroic bravado of the original poem. Only a scholar and poet steeped in Anglo-Saxon literature and culture could conceive of such a lyrical extension of the poem from the perspective of the women in the mead hall. Reading it opened the poem to me as never before. What a gift! Grendel's Mother is sure to become an integral part of every class on Beowulf.
~ Candace Robb, author of the Owen Archer Mystery Series and, as Emma Campion, A Triple Knot 2015)
This fascinating narrative is to readers today what John Gardner's Grendel
was to readers of the 1970s. Grendel's Mother
gives extra pleasure to lovers of medieval culture, since Morrison has enriched her novel with numerous treasure pieces taken from the earliest literatures of northern Europe. Poignant and yet exhilarating, Morrison's story surrounding the women of Beowulf has a universal appeal that will keep readers captivated from beginning to end.
~ Haruko Momma, Professor of English, New York University, author of The Composition of Old English Poetry
"Morrison's historical novel explores the legend of Beowulf
. On the shore of the land of the Scyldings arrives a baby found in a boat of foreign make, swaddled in salt-encrusted blankets and accompanied only by a silver spoon, an illuminated book, and a piece of gold jewelry. The foundling is taken in by a local fisherman and his wife, who name her Brimhild. The young king, Hrothgar, sanctions the adoption, though the king's mother is sure that the alien girl will bring only misfortune to the land. From a local “mere-woman” Brimhild learns the lore of the land and its magic. From a traveling Irish monk she learns of a religion that worships a pitiable, gentle god. Brimhild grows to adulthood, rising to a place of prominence among her new people: she becomes the wife of Hrothgar and oversees the construction of Heorot, an immense hall that becomes the pride of the Scyldings. She bears the king a son, Grendel, a sensitive child she raises secretly in the faith of Christ. Yet Brimhild sits at a crossroads between old ideas and new ones, and the truth of her origins threatens her placement at the head of her adopted tribe. Her betrayal and fall from grace give birth to a new set of stories, one in which she and her son are defamed for all time. Morrison writes in alliterative, lyric prose that evokes the Old English of her source text: “There she saw the soft seaweed, barnacled bed, of a marine monster. Leaving her work, approaching with caution, she listened for linnets along the lime lane.” An incredible world is spun out of blunt, staccato words: a world of customs and objects, of heroes and faiths, and, of course, monsters. Morrison manages to update the medieval morality of the original poem while preserving its mournful sense of the old ways passing away.An enchanting, poignant reimagining of Beowulf
~ Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2015)
“Finally, a creator in the long afterlife of Beowulf
who puts Grendel’s Mother at the centre of our consideration–just exactly where she belongs! And what a figure of knowledge, cultural intersection, power, and pain. Morrison’s evocative text not only recreates and restructures the tales underlying Beowulf
, but also weaves in a whole host of Germanic and Celtic material, including Norse tales and poems, medical recipes, charms, and riddles. She tells a realistic story of cultural and political intersections, with the focus on the woman at its core: a baptized Christian child, servant in a hall, a pagan queen, a wise woman, a bereft mother, an angel of death, a poet, a true leader and thinker.”
~ M. J. Toswell, Professor in the Department of English at the University of Western Ontario
“Grendel’s mother of Beowulf
is one of the most fascinating monsters in world literature, and she finds new life in Susan Morrison’s fascinating narrative of love, strife, and sorrow in the age of the Scyldings. Drawing upon her own deep knowledge of ancient and medieval history, Morrison reconstructs a Norse world in vivid detail, creating scenes and characters for whom the great whale road, Valkyries, and earthy magic are terrifyingly real. Morrison’s revisionary novel complicates traditional notions of heroism and villainy, evoking an eldritch, feminine power every bit the equal of the brazen warrior’s might. Teratophiles, rejoice! With Grendel’s Mother
, Morrison has given us a “monstrous” woman worthy of our fear, our respect, and our love.”
~ Robert T. Tally Jr., Texas State University, author of Poe and the Subversion of American Literature: Satire, Fantasy, Critique, CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title 2014
“Since the era of Wagner, we have seen great public interest in Old English narratives like Beowulf
and in Old Norse narratives like The Saga of the Volsungs
. Unfortunately, popularized versions of these tales based on translations often perpetuate unfounded assumptions about what the past must have been like. More informative –– and more enduringly popular –– have been retellings by authors like Poul Anderson and J. R. R. Tolkien, literary artists who know the old tales in their original languages. Morrison has a scholar’s command of Beowulf. Like Anderson and Tolkien, she has hit on a method that brings ancient times to life more effectively than direct translation, which entangles the reader at once in doubts and difficulties. The most authentic recreations of early Northwest Europe weave material from many sources into an original plot. We may not understand everything that happens in Beowulf
, but Morrison incorporates material from related songs and sagas to create a compelling story with the special appeal of a window on the past.”
~ Geoffrey Russom, Professor Emeritus of English and Medieval Studies, Brown University
"Overall, this story is about friendship, love, loss, and redemption. The message of this book is that there is always hope....I found this story to an emotional and poignant read. I loved reading Brimhild’s journey and wished for her to find her happiness. I found the writing to be very beautiful and lyrical.
I also liked how the setting was set in the Anglo-Saxon world, and I loved how Norse mythology was incorporated into the story. Grendel’s Mother is sure to linger with you even after you have finished the last page.
I recommend this story to anyone interested in reading a different take on the classic, Beowulf
, Norse Mythology, and anyone who enjoys reading stories about a mother’s love for her son."
~ Lauralee Jacks, History from a Woman's Perspective: A Book Blog
"I loved the imagery of this story. I also loved the tales of the Gods, Thor, Odin and Loki and their antics. The only problem with that for me was that every time there was a mention of Loki, I thought about Tom Hiddleston and Chris Helmsworth."
~ A Chick Who Reads
"I was captivated by the prose
...I am most excited about the chance to use Grendel's Mother
and The Prose Edda: Tales from Norse Mythology
for my kids' Great Books/History homeschool curriculum
. I think they will appreciate the feminist story
in contrast to the very masculine originals. I also think they will appreciate the examination of feminine life during the period.
is definitely a book that I will be recommending to any of my friends who enjoy historical fiction. I think it will appeal to anyone who enjoys Norse or Germanic tales, historical fiction in general and epic tales. I am already feeling the need to reread both Grendel's Mother and Beowulf very soon
~ A Book Geek
"By giving us the tale from the female perspective, she has managed to put a completely different spin on it for me. Her beautiful mastery of the language has brought the characters to life for me. These strong women truly were the steel backbone of the society
~ One Book Shy
“This book offers up this infamous story from a new perspective. What’s more, and my favourite aspect I think, is that it does so utilizing the devices and tools that characterize the original poem….[O]verall the use of alliteration, epithets, and kenning was beautifully crafted.
The tone and style are somewhat alien, especially for a modern reader, but I feel that this is actually working to set the scene and rhythm of a historical space that is very alien to the one we inhabit. Even more importantly that rhythm and tone is consistent throughout and that lets the reader settle into a world that the language patterns and tone, as much as anything else, create. All in all a definite, recommended read!
~ Seize the Words
by Susan Signe Morrison is the Beowulf
legend as you have never heard it before. If you are familiar with the legendary poem, you will definitely enjoy the fresh and utterly compelling spin Morrison puts on the Old English tale as she creates compelling backgrounds to some of its pivotal characters. However, even read on its own, Grendel’s Mother
is still as grand. Morrison strips the legend down to its bare bones and recreates it into a fresh and most compelling story. The depth of her knowledge of and passion for medieval tales clearly comes through. The rich and lyrical writing style perfectly fits the era in which the story is set and immediately draws you in, persuading you to dive deeper into the story of the fisher and fighting folk. The plot and character development are one of the best I have come across. Grendel’s Mother
is no doubt one of the most captivating medieval tales I have ever read.”
~ Faridah Nassozi, Readers’ Favorite
Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature, Nottingham Trent University, has just finished Susan Signe Morrison’s Grendel’s Mother: The Saga of the Wyrd-Wife (Top Hat, 2015). “This retelling of the Anglo-Saxon epic by one of the period’s most renowned scholars is gloomy and powerful in equal measure. Morrison names the poem’s anonymous character (Brimhild) and, in so doing, tragically personalises the victim of the poem’s patriarchal violence. The novel’s alliterative style constantly enacts the signature of its source: ‘loathsome love-making, putrid penetration, corrupt copulation’. Put this on the syllabus next time you teach Beowulf.”
~Times Higher Education, May 12, 2016