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''Beowulf'' makes a comeback

The 1,000-year-old epic poem is on the best-seller lists

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You didn’t read it in high school; now here’s your chance to not read it as a grown-up.

Beowulf — the 1,000-year-old epic poem about a man-eater named Grendel and the Scandinavian king who killed him — has somehow popped up on the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and Publishers Weekly best-seller lists (above Michael Crichton’s Timeline, no less). Maybe it’s because of the book’s nifty po-mo cover (with Beowulf in full-body chain mail). Or maybe it’s because Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney has penned an elegant and utterly readable translation of the ancient tale. Whatever the reason, after six press runs 70,000 copies have been shipped to bookstores. ”I hear there’s even been talk about a movie deal, although that may be a myth,” says Farrar, Straus & Girous editor in cheif Jonathan Galassi, who edited the critically acclaimed translation (which recently won Britain’s prestigious Whitbread Award, with noted literary expert Jerry Hall casting one of the deciding votes). ”It just shows that there’s a hunger out there for our literary heritage.”

Maybe. But personally I prefer the original Old English text. As Hrothgar, protector of Shieldings, so eloquently put it, ”Ic hine cude cniht-wesende; waes hiseald-faeder.”