The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

This novel is framed by two letters from a man named Gilliberht. In the first letter, Gilliberht, a Christian, writes from France to his Italian patron asking help to go north and convert the northern barbarians. The novel ends with Gilliberht writing as a pagan to that former patron, telling him that the future belongs to the North. Gilliberhts statement tells what actually happened in history. In between, the novel proper tells a “history based on myth.”

King Vendil of Jutland (Denmark) is murdered by his brother Feng while Vendils son Amleth (Hamlet) is off seeking service with the Geatish king, Beowulf. Rejected by Beowulf, the apparently doltish Amleth returns to Jutland to find Feng on the throne and married to Amleths mother, Gerutha. In this northern world, only violence gives honor and power, and sexual relations are almost without restraint.

The illiterate Feng decides to rid himself of Amleth by sending him to seek his fortune in Great Britain. Feng has a captured southerner, Gilliberht, write a letter to Duke Arthur of Britain, telling Arthur to kill Amleth. Gilliberht, resentful at his treatment, slyly changes the letter so that Fengs henchmen are executed instead. Afterward, Gilliberht, sold as a slave to Beowulf, becomes Beowulfs ruling adviser because he is educated and Beowulf desires to be remembered after his death in a poem only Gilliberht can write. Henry Treece even has Gilliberht compose some lines, which are the...

(The entire section is 417 words.)