I remember sitting in an early British literature class and listening to not just one college professor, but almost everyone in the University’s literature department, say that the most important book in Western Civilization is the epic story of Beowulf. Why?
- It was the first piece of literature (technically a poem) written in a vernacular language (Old English). Most everything was written in Latin or Greek.
- It is the first true novel in Western Civilization.
- The epic poem influenced literature from the middle 18th century to the near end of the 19th century. Other than the story of dragon-slayer Siegfried, no other medieval tale has influenced western literature as much as Beowulf.
If the publishing industry (publishers, editors, and agents) today would have existed back when Beowulf was penned (8th-11th centuries depending on who you ask) I bet they would find a reason not to publish it.
So I had a little fun and put myself in the dream-shattering role of literary agent or acquisition agent and listed ten reasons why Beowulf would be rejected back during the time it was written.
1). It’s written in English (Old English-common language), everyone knows that if you want a successful best seller in this day and age it must be written in Latin or Greek.
2). The character isn’t likable. You’re starting with a spoiled rich-kid looking to make a name for himself. Sure he grows as a character, but the reader needs to like him from the beginning.
3). Too much back story and info globs. A good example is the bar scene. So right in the middle of the story, before Beowulf goes to fight Grendel’s mom, Beowulf flashes back to fighting a sea monster during his morning workout and swim? How does this bit of back story advance the plot? What’s up with that?
4). Too pagan, you’re going to offend the Atheists, Muslims and Christians. You need to write for a broader audience. 5). Too Christian. Speculative novels don’t do well with Christian audiences, unless you have a gospel tract that gets their theology right.
6). You have no Muslim characters in this. This day and age the Islamic demographic is exploding onto the scene. (Do remember Islam was expanding into the west at this time)
7). You scribes need a larger platform for marketing. The story isn’t bad, but you need more followers on Facebook and twitter to ensure good book sales.
8). There is no romance in this story, and you have no prominent female characters. Sure you have one, she’s a villain, but you don’t give her a name. Maybe if you made Beowulf a girl, it might work better. Name the villain Bertha, or something.
9). Fallen angels, half-human half fallen-angels, and dragons have been done to death. We need a fresher mythology here.
10). This is fantasy and might work with publisher that caters to Christian audiences. Everyone is going to tie Beowulf’s victory to a risen Christ. We don’t do religious themed material You might talk to the Marcher guy, Brother Gerken…Gerke. No, he sold out to that other guy with the hard name—Brother Lobe…Lube. I don’t know, something like that.