In 2007 I was invited to the critics’ preview of Robert Zemeckis’s motion-capture Beowulf movie at the IMAX, Waterloo. I read the press pack’s inaccurate, ahistorical notes on the poem with such horror that the film critic Mark Kermode enquired why I was whimpering. I outlined the more egregious errors. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘either you can spend the whole film moaning, “What have they done to my lovely poem?” or you can take it for what it is.’ And though I flinched as the first 3-D bone flung across the mead benches of Heorot seemed likely to hit me square in the face, the good doctor had dispensed excellent advice, for there turned out to be much of interest in the film, which was partly scripted by Neil Gaiman.
Whether Old English experts or not, some readers may well whimper and flinch at this new translation – really more a version – of Beowulf by the noted American fantasy author Maria Dahvana Headley. The original epic poem is preserved in a single manuscript, dating from 1020 or so, held