INTERVIEW Beowulf Beastslayer
Author Jonathan Green aims to turn Old English epic Beowulf into a Fighting Fantasy-style gamebook
“Listen! We of the Spear-Danes in the days of yore, of those clan-kings, heard of their glory, how those nobles performed courageous deeds!” So begins the greatest fantasy story of them all, the Old English epic poem Beowulf. It’s a story which has fascinated people through the ages inspiring the likes of JRR Tolkien, Seamus Heaney and Neil Gaiman. Now writer Jonathan Green, famous to SFX readers as the author of Abaddon’s Pax Britannia series and various Fighting Fantasy gamebooks amongst many others, is taking a crack at it. His beautifully simple idea? An adventure gamebook in which you are the Scandinavian hero of legend! A Kickstarter to raise awareness and funds is still in the early planning stages but Green took time out to talk us through his plans:
SFX: What’s the fascination with Beowulf for you personally?
Jonathan Green: When I was about six or seven years old, my mum bought me a book about monsters. It was effectively an encyclopaedia, but with each entry composed of a story and a pen and ink illustration. It was here that I first came across the legend of the Lambton Worm, the Amphisbena, and Grendel. When I read the story, I had the context completely wrong (I imagined the soldiers it mentioned as being from the Napoleonic Wars!) but the image of the monster that comes down from the wilderlands to murder and maim had me hooked. And it’s never left me.
The legend has influenced my work ever since, my very first published book Spellbreaker had a Grendel-like monster appear within its pages, and now I feel mature enough and experienced enough to tackle my own take on the story.
SFX: Why is a story over a thousand years old still inspirational and relevant today?
Green: Because Beowulf is the first superhero of the English literary tradition. And he’s a superhero who is first and foremost a man. He’s not some benevolent alien or genetically, or cyborganically, enhanced individual. He’s an Anglo Saxon warrior who drinks, and fights, and wenches as any other man might hope to… except that he also single-handedly kills a monster, by tearing off its arm at the shoulder, whilst in the buff! What’s not inspiring about that?
SFX: What challenges are involved in adapting this much-loved tale into a gamebook?
Green: I want to make sure that the original story is one route you can take through the book, although written in a modern gamebook style; but I also want to open up the possibilities of what else might have happened during the course of the adventure if Beowulf hadn’t made the decisions he did, or if the battles he fought hadn’t quite gone according to plan.
SFX: What new opportunities does Kickstarter present to authors? Is this the future of publishing?
Green: It may well be one form of publishing that will exist alongside existing forms, but in a way I feel it hearkens back to the Good Old Days. In these austere times, when publishers need proof of potential market before risking thousands on putting out a new book, Kickstarter allows you to market a product directly to its potential readerships, who then effectively place pre-orders and thereby pay the author an advance.
I don’t think I’ll be turning my back on traditional print publishers any time soon, but Kickstarter does allow me to put out some more personal projects that might not work so well for a conventional publisher, just as I am also starting to experiment with ePublishing.
SFX: Thanks Jon!
To find out more about Jonathan Green’s Beowulf Beastslayer project, visit the official site here. There’s also a Facebook page. Let us know what you think of Beowulf as a topic for choose-your-own-adventure-style play in the comment thread below…