Tuesday, 24 October 2000

Tom Holt: Who's Afraid of Beowulf? (1988)

Edition: MacMillan, 1988
Review number: 661

The second of Tom Holt's comic fantasy novels, Who's Afraid of Beowulf? is rather a tentative affair by comparison with most of them. It gets its comedy from the same idea as Expecting Someone Taller (and many other humourous fantasy novels), as it concerns a group of characters from mythology bewildered by the modern world.

In this case, the bewildered mythological characters are heroes from the Norse sagas, sealed for hundreds of years in a ship burial in a remote part of Caithness (Scotland) until needed again. They encounter such things as buses, TV cameras, and policemen, interpreting mast technology as like the magic they had known in the past. Who's Afraid of Beowulf?, though often amusing, never becomes really funny. This is partly because of the hackneyed plot. The best bits are the games played by the two elemental spirits also imprisoned in the mound.

Beowulf does not feature in the novel (he is mentioned once, in passing), and the title is more the sort of joke made by an undergraduate English student faced with learning Anglo-Saxon than anything to do with the novel itself.

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