The Anglo-Saxon World
By Kevin Crossley-Holland
Review by Will (English Language and Literature)
I first came across Kevin Crossley-Holland’s The Anglo-Saxon World on a cold, wet and miserable day. Having missed a film, I took refuge from the rain in the bookshop across the road and found myself in the Old English Section. I had never looked at Old English before and only vaguely associated it with Beowulf, which we looked at in year 5 at school. However, on reading The Anglo-Saxon World I was fascinated and soon forgot the rain slowly seeping into my socks. Though “Old English” seems intimidating, with a host of different ideas not to mention a different language,
Holland’s explanation and translation really gave the poems a background, making them easier to understand. The picture that emerges of bloodthirsty warriors battling to the death, separated star-crossed lovers and dragons is well worth a look. When I was younger, one of my favourite books was Lord of the Rings and as I read more I started to see where Tolkien got his inspiration from – in fact “Theoden” just means “leader” in Old English. The book includes loads of different poems, but in my opinion the best has to be The Battle of Maldon, where the valiant Byrhtnoth leads an army against a horde of Vikings. As the two armies advance towards each other the wolves and crows gather, the tension mounts until…
Well I will let you find out what happens. Overall, The Anglo-Saxon World is a fascinating introduction to what might at first appear a challenging topic but in fact is one of the most rewarding.
Review by Eshani (English Language and Literature)
One of the elements of the English course at Oxford that scared me the most was the prospect of studying Old English. Being so removed from anything I had read before, I decided to ease myself into it by reading an English translation of some Old English texts.
I had only really heard of “Beowulf” beforehand and was surprised to see that there is much more to Anglo-Saxon literature than epic battles with monsters! The texts approach universal subjects, such as death and loyalty – my favourite text in the anthology is “The Wanderer”, a poem about the loss of identity and solitude. The anthology provides something for everyone, regardless of whether you like to read action or romance, because having such a wide range of texts in one book means that you are taken on a snap-shot tour of the different genres of Old English literature.
Reading Anglo-Saxon literature also gave me a great insight into the history of their culture which, although it was so long ago, has definite parallels with our society now.
Another great reason to try this book is that most of the texts are short – “The Wanderer” is only 3 pages long. I know it seems a daunting task to read literature written in the 7th century, but I found the fact that they were so brief helped me to truly get stuck in and grasp the text’s meaning.
If you would have told me to recommend a book while I was a secondary school, Old English would have definitely not been at the top of the list but reading The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology has truly opened my eyes to a new area of literature. It’s exciting to read the first ever works written in English which, after all, have provided the foundation for texts to come.
Anglo Saxon World: An Anthology by Kevin Crossley-Holland