REVIEW: The Saga of Bödvar Bjarki Vol. 2 – The Real Beowulf and Grendel´s Mother (2022)

A Graphic Novel by Volkmar Fleckenstein

In volume one of Volkmar Fleckenstein‘s gorgeous graphic Nordic Saga The Saga of Bödvar Bjarki Vol. 1 – The Real Beowulf and Grendel, we bore witness to the legendary battle between Bödvar Bjarki and the tyrannical Agnar Ingjaldson (Grendel), characters that bear more than just a passing resemblance to the literary Beowulf and Grendel. Agnar is the leader of the Heathobards, a murderous warband that has been at odds with The Scyldings for ages. The current Scylding king, a man named Hroar (or Hrothgar) plans to marry his daughter Freyvör to Agnar in a last ditch effort to calm hostilities. Of course, this is unlikely to happen but it’s basically the only thing keeping his people from finding themselves a lot less alive than the previous day. The one thing that Agnar did not take into account was the possibility that a traveler such as Bödvar Bjarki (Beowulf) would butt into his misdeeds and hold him accountable. With Agnar dead, many hope the war is over, but sadly it appears to have just begun!

The author released this over the Summer of 2022, I am just woefully late to getting a write up completed (sorry!), and it appears the normal cycle for these releases should follow the same sort of pattern of a campaign in the Spring and a release in the Summer. The final two chapters have been announced including Bödvar Bjarki`s Saga Vol.3: The Real Beowulf and the Battle of Ice Lake Vänern, and Bödvar Bjarki`s Saga Vol.4: The Real Beowulf and the Dragon which are both being worked on as we speak. I appreciate these books a LOT because literary scholarship is often scared to try to tie Beowulf to items in the Icelandic Sagas, but many historians can see definite parallels, and this book is a stab at unifying the mythology with the written sources into one cohesive story. For those looking for additional things to read to enjoy this more, Beowulf is definitely a must, as well as an Old Norse Poem called Bjarkamál, an Icelandic rhyme Bjarkarimur, and finally Hrólfr Kraki’s Saga.

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!”

First and foremost, I absolutely LOVE the inclusion of a detailed introductory lesson on the lore and historicity of the plot and how it related to the source material this story has been adapted from. We learn that Grendel’s mother, more commonly known in translations under despicable names such as “the Marsh hag” or “swamp witch”, does not appear in any of the sagas as written. There is, however, reference to Agnar Ingjaldson’s mother being “a despicable she-wolf from Sweden”. The author took this motif and ran with it to great success. Since there are at least five mentions of the goddess Gefjon in Beowulf, and many scholars link this goddess to Grendel’s mother, there is also an intention to use the lore involving the old Aesir / Vanir war as a way to continue hostilities in the story. With Bödvar Bjarki being an adherent to a cult devoted to Woden (Odin, Oden, Óðinn etc.), having The She-Wolf be an adherent to Gefjon gives the perfect spark to ignite the fire. There is also a pretty thorough index at the end of the book which is appreciated.

Another thing that sets Volkmar’s books apart from what I would call “pop culture Viking” books is that he is in this to not only educate on Germanic history, but to show Pagan rituals as best as he can. His imprint, Pagan Comics, does a fairly good job with this, leading to books that try to put the spiritualism back into the history of peoples that have had their past white-washed by Christian scribes to a VERY large degree. This book was fitting for me to have read today as it takes place during Jólablót, which is next week if I’m not mistaken (I just do it on the 25th as it is easier for all involved), we see Yule sacrifices and a look at what the Scandinavians may have celebrated that eventually got twisted into the gestalt holiday most people celebrate today as “Christmas”.

We also see an oath ceremony wherein King Hroar bestows land to the Geatish warband in exchange for their lives in protection. Many Heathens do some form of an oath ceremony today when joining a Kindred, so this was cool to see. Finally, great care is taken to show the initiation into a Berserker warband in the former slave Hott joining ranks with Bödvar Bjarki as a free man. We are treated to a depiction of a ceremonial spear dance in Woden’s name as well as a sacrificial battle with a wolf to gain a position within the group.

This book is full of grizzly battles and a bit of sexual imagery, so if the cover didn’t tip you off as to the nature of the book, I will warn you that this is not a suitable story for the kiddos. It doesn’t dwell on either subject for long enough to become some sort of exploitative gore-fest or a straight-up pornographic comic, but in keeping with the contents of the traditional texts, the content is there – be waned. If you can handle that, the book is the closest thing I have seen to any comic trying to capture the lives of historical Migration Period Northern Europeans. It never veers into History Channel tropes, stays grounded in real history (or at least an educated guess based on research), and is respectful to people’s beliefs, ancient or otherwise.

The artwork is solid, with more and more quite cinematic shots being incorporated to the mix. The script is both tight and well written, and seems more detailed than previous book without becoming verbose. Volkmar does not speak native English (although he is obviously fluent), but one would never know because if there were any weird typos or nonsensical sentences, I never saw them. This is a testament to the care he places in his books, as the easy way would have been to just throw it out there, and I have seen some that do just that that seem amateur in comparison.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a LOT. It touches on the ideas put in place with Beowulf and elaborates on them to make them more historically probable. There is even an idea that the infamous Meadhall attack that famously kicks off the Beowulf story happens later on, and is attributed to an undead version of Agnar Ingjaldson called “GREN-DEL” by witnesses who believe the killer has become a huge troll to wreak so much havoc. This is immediately brushed aside by Bödvar Bjarki, and for good reason as he knows the rest of the warband likely just got revenge. This small inclusion sets up a way for the storytellers within the survivors to create the oral mythology that later gets written down in the book we all know and love. When most try to make “THE TRUE STORY OF XX”, it usually results in boring films with grey and blue coloring and everyone wearing brown (cough*KingArthur*cough), whereas something like this would be awesome and actually stand as being somewhat plausible. While this book is no stranger to the mysticism of ancient peoples, it thankfully strays away from the fantastical for now, something I will be interested to see when The Dragon finally rears it’s ugly head. And that’s assume we actual see a literal dragon! I can’t wait for volume three, and will give updates when the Kickstarter for it eventually pops up.

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