Monster Slayer: A Beowulf Tale by Brian Patten & Chris Riddell


“While the King and his warriors feasted and drank, the monster Grendel shook off a hundred years of sleep.

Why should people be happy? he wondered. Why should they make music and sing and hold great feasts while I sit alone in a stinking bog? Grendel was full of jealousy and hatred.

I’ll destroy their joy, he thought.”

Monster Slayer: A Beowulf Tale is a retelling of the Old English poem, Beowulf, the earliest known European elegy written over one thousand years ago. In this version from Barrington Stoke, author Brian Patten and illustrator Chris Riddell capture the epic battle of good versus evil with a stylish silver-foiled cover and striking imagery within – created not only in words and pictures, but in design too.

One dark night, the monster Grendel is awoken from his century-long sleep by the music and singing of the unwitting townsfolk. Enraged by their joy, Grendel leaves his swamp and blazes a bloody trail of vengeance, making a nest of crushed bones. Warrior after warrior tries to stop the evil monster but none can outwit its brutal strength. All seems hopeless and darkness looks set to prevail. Then a warrior named Beowulf steps up, with the strength of ten men and the brave heart of one hundred. But can he beat the unimaginable monster? And if he does, what more horror might lurk beneath the swamp?

Full of dark prose and even darker imagery, Monster Slayer: A Beowulf Tale should engage the most reluctant of reader, making the oft-studied text more accessible and certainly more vivid. Grendel’s seemingly unstoppable evil, and Beowulf’s unflinching courage to defeat it, is an old tale of heroism steeped in folklore. The reader is pitched into grim violence, evoked in Brian Patten’s prose and ably enlivened by Chris Riddell’s gruesome illustrations. The design – as one might expect from Barrington Stoke, who seek to engage emergent, reluctant and dyslexic readers – is a thing of beauty, simplicity, and space. Readers may lose their breath as Grendel’s awful crimes unfold, but they won’t break too much of a sweat actually reading the text.

Exploring the age-old fight of good versus evil, light versus dark, Monster Slayer: A Beowulf Tale manages to be both gory and lyrical – keeping alive the original meaning of the poem while being unafraid to simplify it too. As a package, it’s essential for any young person studying the original text.

As a footnote, my son who has dyslexia says this about the Barrington Stoke books he’s read: “The chapters are short which is great as it makes you feel like you’re making progress quickly and that makes the stories more fun to read. I like the space around the text, especially the space between paragraphs, as then I don’t get lost in the page as easily. The fonts are always clear and the books with illustrations are given space around them too so that the whole thing never seems cramped or overwhelming to look at. The paper is a good cream-colour so the light doesn’t bounce up. I would recommend Barrington Stoke books to people who have dyslexia or who find reading tiring and difficult. I think ALL stories should be printed the way they do them!!”


Brian Patten
Chris Riddell
Barrington Stoke

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