Beowulf Character Analysis in Robert Nye's Novel Adaptation

Categories: Beowulf

A spin on the classic story, Beowulf,written by an anonymous author, was much needed in the literary world, and Robert Nye was the man for the job. The classic story has been told time and time again, but this time the difference is the slight twist he added. The new story was written by a man who not only has written novels, but also plays, children's stories, poetry and much more. In his version on Beowulf, Nye writes his story so the reader gets a glimpse of the original plot line, and characters, but with a childish and modern twist added in.

In 'Beowulf: A New Telling' written by Robert Nye, there are many differences between the original and new novel. The portrayal of Beowulf character is under analysis as well as the minor details due to the fact, that Nye gives a different and intriguing spin on the classic tale.

A New 'Beowulf': Character and Plot Analysis

The beginning of the story starts out with Beowulf traveling to the land of the Danes, to visit the king Hrothgar.

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Hrothgar’s hall called the Heorot, has been under attack from Grendel for years. Because of Grendel's constant threats to hurt the Danish people no one had beaten Grendel. Hrothgar called Beowulf to help him get rid of Grendel once and for all to protect his people. As the story progresses Hrothgar soon figures that Beowulf is not just and ordinary man, but a great hero. In his fight with Grendel, he decides to use no sword and goes in basically without a battle plan.

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After the death of one of Hrothgar’s men, and the disappearance of another, Beowulf follows Grendel’s mother’s into a swampy area. In order to fight Grendel’s mother, Beowulf must dive deep into a bottomless pool, with blood bubbles that float to the surface. Beowulf swims down deeper until he is finally grabbed by Grendel’s mother. Beowulf then tries hitting Grendel's mother but comes out of it. He feels helpless fighting against Grendel's mother. Though Beowulf has very high reputation in the land, he decided to go home. Once he has returned back, Beowulf is asked to be king, but he chooses to decline, saying that he does not want to take the throne when there is still an heir to take it. For the years to follow, Beowulf lives peacefully as a beekeeper, as he did as a child. However, later on the young heir to the throne is killed, so Beowulf is forced to take over. He is a good leader and led the country into peace. Throughout leading the kingdom, Beowulf chose to continue tending to his bees. Everything is continuing in peace until one day, a slave wandered into the mountains looking for hidden treasure. The slave upset the firedrake and made him extremely upset and in turn the firedrake grew to be huge and found himself trapped in the princes burial cave. The firedrake then destroys the nearby houses, setting them on fire and decimating them. Beowulf, being in the king position, acts quickly. Beowulf devises a plan that will save the kingdom from the destructive dragon terrorizing the city.

In the Literary Critique I read, the main point was the novel turns Beowulf into a more relatable character for the reader. To help her main points sink in, the writer relates Beowulf to other heros in common books or movies. The critique draws parallels from the common heros we see today and the new Beowulf in the novel. She then chooses to highlight that Beowulf is human in this book, where as he was human in the original story but it didn't seem like it. In the novel, Beowulf is still described as a strong, courageous, and a valiant hero but appears to be more humble than he originally was. Beowulf is still a character that would lay his life down for anyone in the book, but in the rewrite his courageous actions are not met with the desire for praise, but the desire for the people to remain safe. All of theses points boiling down to the new Beowulf has a slight shift of character that changes the tone of the story. Once the writer has explained all of this, she goes into how the novel was written. The way Robert Nye wrote the novel kept you intrigued and engaged in the story while keeping the moving parts of the story simple and straightforward to comprehend. The minor details that were added into the story also helped add to the understanding of the story as a whole. The last section in the critique was the recommendation to others. The recommendation was for anyone who enjoys adventure, exciting, and a little bit gory stories. In the final sentence she makes a parallel between Lord of the Rings and the Novel to help give the reader something to draw off of.

Differences Between Original Novel and Nye's Adaptation

As a whole the new Beowulf story is very similar to the original, bringing in the same characters and their accompanying traits. Yet while I was reading I found myself pulling out the things that made the novel different through the characters and their choices. The first thing that I noticed was the character of Beowulf if portrayed as more of a humble man whereas in the original story Beowulf is more egotistical and full of himself. In the new story Beowulf knows he is a mighty warrior and that he is strong and courageous but he is not as boastful and does not do things purely for the fame that is associated with it. When writing in the Beowulf character as a more humble personality the tone of the entire story shifted. When there is not a egotistical character at the forefront of the story the message the story sends shifts from one with little to no real connectivity to a feeling of connectedness and relatability with the characters. As Beowulf is described in the book he had “eyes unwavering, that always struck others as honest and open. And when someone spoke to him, he sat just as still and attentive, listening with his eyes”. The way that he is portrayed makes the reader sympathize with him and gives a deeper connection to the story itself. To go along with the portrayal the book was also intended for a younger audience. The novel was written more for the middle school age group rather than the adult audience that the original story was aimed towards. In the novel the concepts that are presented in the original are still used as the baseline for the story but everything seems to be more simplified than it predecessor. The novel was written to be more easily understood and through the characters the simplicity shown through. Each character is easily defined by their certain traits, and all of their characteristics follow the underlying theme of good and evil that is consistent throughout the original as well as the novel. By keeping each character in a category of good and evil, this exponentially helped to keep the novel simple and on the level of a younger child reader. Finally the most noticable difference between the novel is the subtle character differences. For example, Beowulf is now a beekeeper that refuses the king position because he does not want to be that man. When given gifts from Hrothgar, he passed them on because “Beowulf was not greedy or ambitious”.


I enjoyed reading 'Beowulf: A New Telling', I thought that the novel was engaging yet simplistic in the story line. I enjoyed that the story was broken up into chapters so there was a definite beginning and end to what was happening and it also allowed the reader time to process what had happened in the previous chapter. I also really liked that the novel was written with easier to comprehend diction than the previous AD circa story. The most intriguing part to me was how the author kept Beowulf on his quest similar to the first novel but changed the ending so that he became a whole different man, a more humbled one. I think that anyone who enjoys an engaging plot line filled with adventure would enjoy 'Beowulf: A New Telling'. My only major critique on the novel was I would have enjoyed more detailed descriptions in certain scenes and less in others. The gory scenes were a little too detailed for me, but then in scenes where is was a conversation or something of meaning, I would find myself hunting for more details. Overall I strongly agree with the lit crit I read. I think that she hit the nail on the head by saying that the new Beowulf character was much more relatable and humble which in turn changed the tone of the story. I also strongly agree with the writing of the story itself kept the reader engaged and wanting to read more which helped with the enjoyment of the novel. I would recommend reading this book even if you don't think it is up your alley, its an easy read and gives a interesting twist on the classic literature that makes you step back and enjoy the story of Beowulf that much more.


  1. Nye, R. (1982). Beowulf: A New Telling. Dell Publishing.
  2. Richman, A. (1982). A New Telling of 'Beowulf.' The New York Times.
  3. Segal, R. A. (1984). The Telling of Beowulf: A New Reading. In The English Hero: A Cultural Biography (pp. 110-138). University of Chicago Press.
  4. Lowe, B. (1990). Beowulf Retold: A Study of R. Nye's 'Beowulf: A New Telling.' Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 45(2), 228-251.
  5. Robert Nye on Beowulf: A New Telling. (1982). BBC Radio.
  6. Howard, D. (1984). 'The Raw Oyster and the Whole Egg': Beowulf and Modern Re-Tellings. Essays in Criticism, 34(3), 223-242.
  7. Leeming, D. A. (2000). Mythology: The Voyage of the Hero (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press.
  8. Heroes: The Beowulf Documentary. (2016). Directed by A. Smith.
  9. Robert Nye's Beowulf: A New Telling (1982). BritLit: The British and Irish Literature Classroom.
Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Beowulf Character Analysis in Robert Nye's Novel Adaptation. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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