REVIEW: The Saga of Bodvar Bjarki – Vol 1 – The Real Beowulf and Grendel (2021)

A Graphic Novel by Volkmar Fleckenstein

Beowulf is always one of those stories that most high-schoolers in The United States have to read, especially in elective literature classes. When I was in school, most people groaned and trudged through the story, but I absolutely loved it every time it was placed in front of me. Yeah, some of the poetic prose can be hard to decipher due to it’s age, but with a little work, it can be an amazing read. I loved the mystery of the whole thing – we know it’s MUCH older than the written-down version (since it was an oral folktale before), and we know that somebody added little flashes of Christianity here and there, but who knows what the original story was like?

Some scholars believe it may have originated in Scandinavia, which is what we are looking at today. The reason being? Almost every character from Beowulf shows up in Icelandic Sagas, but not the man himself. Bodvar Bjarki, who appears in an Old Norse Poem Bjarkamál, an Icelandic rhyme Bjarkarimur and Hrólfr Kraki’s Saga is basically the same character, so much so that many theories are popping up to try to unify him with Beowulf. One of the comic artists I look forward to the most, Volkmar Fleckenstein, has come up with a historical fiction version of the above sources and does a wonderful job tying everything together.

Before we go further, for more projects by this author, check out these links:

From the Kickstarter Page:

“Beowulf, it is one of the most important and most often translated, published and realized works of Old Anglo-Saxon literature . But did he really live or were all his deeds only the fantasies of an anglo-saxon poet or is it based on real events?

This question occupied me for a long time until I came across its traces in the old Scandinavian sources. I did a long research and with this project I want to tell you who is really behind the troll Grendel, Grendel’s mother and the dragon. And why many scholars agree that BÖDVAR BJARKI (old norse: Warlike Little-Bear) and BEOWULF (old english: Bee-wolf= Bear) could be the same person!”

For this story, You knew that Bodvar of the Geatish Wulfing Clan would eventually find his arch-nemesis, and it happens pretty quickly. The analogue to Beowulf’s Grendel is a horrible man named Agnar Ingjaldsson or Agnar Troll-blood because it was said that he was the offspring of a man and a troll woman after the man was banished to the swamps for committing fratricide. Agnar is a giant of a man that runs a murderous war band, his men spend most of the opening pages of the book abusing the slaves at the King’s Hall, hurling bones at them, and raping the women as they wish. This angers Bodvar, as he is a great man with a strong head on his shoulders.

The daughter of the “Last King of the Scyldings”, King Hroar is betrothed to Agnar in a loveless political wedding to attempt to create a time of peace for his people. Prior to this, The Troll-bloods would attack his people and he sees this as the only way to make it stop. The girl is saddened, bawling her eyes out during the wedding party and sitting in the corner as if being excluded from it entirely. She immediately latches onto Bodvar due to his chivalrous attitude and good looks. Perhaps he can defeat the scourge of the lands?

Being a Pagan myself, I get excited when I see bits and pieces of the spiritual aspect of Germanic peoples, but most “pop culture Viking” comics have more in common with television shows than any actual historical ideas. I am always happy to read books by Fleckenstein because he incorporates practice into his story, even if just a glimpse. With part of this story taking place in and around the time of Yule (Jólablót), what a fitting read for me in the month of December! I’d like to pretend I held off reviewing this on purpose, but sadly that was not the case. We see numerous prayers to various gods, a ritual sacrifice during a funeral, and even a Jólablót feast.

This book marks a slight upgrade in the artwork found in the Wife of Freyr series in that Fleckenstein shifted his palette from monochrome to color, and I have to say the shift was very successful. He has improved a lot as an artist after the first book, and is getting better with every release. He specializes in what could be considered pin up art, pictures of an erotic nature with beautiful women at the forefront, but it’s never the real focus of the book. I will say, as with any of his books, they are decidedly not for children in any way, but are true to the old lore – bloody and full of sex.

Another addition I liked was the footnotes and glossary in the back of the book, both explaining words that may not be native to English speakers not from the areas depicted in the story. Listed are things like names of The Gods, Historical places, peoples etc. You could easily go down many rabbit holes following up on the information found in the book, and I really appreciate the care taken to educate the reader rather than pretend/assume everyone is on the same page.

This is a great introduction to the story and a fitting “version” of the Grendel story that is grounded far more into reality than the Anglo-Saxon book. It is looking to be, perhaps, the author’s best work to date, but I will save that praise when all volumes are collected. The next volume is a retelling of Beowulf and the Marsh Hag (Grendel’s mother), and looks to be every bit as exciting as this book. I’m sure it will be far more racy than this one, but that’s the nature of that part of the story in just about every version. Can’t wait to see more, and I will keep everyone updated as soon as a Kickstarter page goes up!

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