My Amazing Students…Yet Again!

Emily Sawyer with her amazing artwork.

My students never fail to amaze, astound, and astonish me. Whether it was a poem fashioned with alliteration and pathos or a gaffaw-inducing Leechbook for college students, my students are valiant thegns and wise warriors.



They made art, such as the painstaking embroidery that portrays the dragon, Beowulf, Grendel’s Mother, and Grendel’s arm, as Claire did.

Emma and her collage depicting good versus evil.

Emma made a collage dividing good and evil. Kyle made us roar with laughter with his “newspaper,” The Heorot Herald. It included tidbits on how to stop Grendel’s arm from rotting in the rafters and also a “Missed Connection” for Unferth, who promised to be reading Pride and Prejudice! A parody requires the writer to understand the original perfectly and is a lot of work–even if the result is to die for!

Kyle and his hysterical “newspaper,” The Heorot Herald.

Kandi and her astounding calligraphy of a beautiful, well-researched story. Her brother hand-sewed the book and its his leatherwork!!!!

Kandi fashioned a book with her own calligraphy and story, interlacing The Wife’s Lament with her own story inspired by historical characters. I think it should be a novel or series. And her brother made the leather-bound book with vellum. Truly mind-blowing!




I’m so grateful to my class for creatively showing how Old English material can be refashioned for today’s world. James made a D & D Beowulf style that was jaw-dropping in its intricate detail.


Old English Risotto and Grendel’s Dinner for One

The head peaceweaver, Rachel

Old English Risotto and Grendel’s Dinner for One? Such is the daily fare of the humble Old English professor.

My student, Rachel, wove a space of peace at the beginning of class in our “meadhall”. She served lamb cooked in berries, whole wheat pancakes (barley was not available), and fresh berries.

Rachel poured mead (well, apple juice) into our cups as she urged us to make boasts. I got a “gold” ring for boasting that I would do my grading.

A golden ring for my boasting to finish grading

Here is a video of how Rachel made her food. With ambient medieval music!

Lauren barley pearls (Old English risotto!)

Lauren made an Old English risotto out of barley pearls and bacon. You can use bacon bits just like in the pre-Conquest period 😉






Stephen is a wood burner who created this gorgeous linden wood plaque commemorating Grendel’s arm.

Cheyenne’s amazing artwork depicting my favorite scene from Grendel’s Mother!

Cheyenne created this lovely work inspired by Grendel’s Mother. The scene is when Brimhild conquers Beowulf with her menstrual blood.

And Alisa made an Old English cookbook, replete with snacks for Grendel 😉

Grendel’s Dinner for One: Drunken Men with a Side of Rage


  • Two intoxicated warriors, fermented overnight
  • 3 cups of fresh blood
  • 20 fingers, chopped
  • 4 arms, filleted
  • 4 legs, boiled


  • Literally swallow all of it in one bite.
  • Enjoy!

Sounds yummy to me!

Jessica’s poster pays tribute to two powerful virgins–Beowulf and Judith.

While Josh made coats of arms for the Danes and Geats. As he writes, “As Tolkien had done with words, I endeavored to do with art.” Great idea!

One student had us play of play of fate or wyrd. I hope you don’t get “A dragon attacks your kingdom.” You might “feel, forever to be known as a coward.”

Another student made sculptures of the dragon and Beowulf in a helmet.

The dragon is pretty cute!

One favorite was devoted to Old English Film Loglines. I want to see Judith Unchained!

Other works cannot be shown, but include a Bruce Lee version of the fighting virgin, Juliana; the story from Beowulf’s point of view in a Lovecraftian homage; and a Blaxploitation version with Heorot as a brothel called The Bone House.

While I miss the doughty thegns and peaceweavers of my class from last year, I currently have some wonderful new ones this semester! I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

Grendel’s Mother in Fascist Italy: “Beowulf” in a Catholic Youth Publication

Cover of the 1950 Italian reprint of the original.

I’m delighted that my article “Grendel’s Mother in Fascist Italy: Beowulf in a Catholic Youth Publication,” has just been published in the International Journal of Comic Art. This essay focuses on a 1940-41 Italian comic book version by Enrico Basari (author) and Kurt Caesar (illustrator). An anti-semitic portrayal of Grendel’s Mother grows out of German views of Beowulf in the 1930s.



Cover of the 1955 Brazilian Portuguese translation.

The anti-semitic overtones present in German Beowulf youth translations and adaptations sympathetic to Nazi German propaganda, produced in the decade before and simultaneously with the publication of the comic under scrutiny here, likewise crop up under the Italian fascist reign. The fraught nature of Grendel’s Mother takes on insidious dimensions in Enrico Basari’s Beowulf. Leggenda cristiana dell’antica Danimarca, appearing in serial form from Oct. 5, 1940-Jan. 25, 1941.

It was featured in Il Vittorioso, a Catholic youth publication, “a nationalist publication often distributed through Catholic parishes” (Calderón, 2007:112), that attempted to go beyond mere Fascist propaganda for young people. Just how could an anti-semitic inflected Beowulf comic have affected youth readers?

Read the full article here: Morrison IJOCA Grendel’s Mother in Fascist Italy.

Full Citation of article

Susan Signe Morrison. “Grendel’s Mother in Fascist Italy: Beowulf in a Catholic Youth Publication.”International Journal of Comic Art (IJOCA) 20.1 (2018): 331-348.

The history of Beowulf’s sandwich: A sketch about ‘fake news’ from 1909 — Dutch Anglo-Saxonist

Imagine what Grendel’s sandwich would consist of!

Before ‘fake news’, there was ‘Beowulf’s sandwich’. A reconstruction of a comic sketch from 1909.

via The history of Beowulf’s sandwich: A sketch about ‘fake news’ from 1909 — Dutch Anglo-Saxonist

FaceTiming from the Anglo-Saxon Period

My and my partner in crime, Lorraine Stock

When Dr. Lorraine Stock, Professor of English at the University of Houston, invited me to come speak about my novel, Grendel’s Mother: The Saga of the Wyrd-Wife, I was thrilled. She wanted me to engage with her students who were reading Beowulf and Beowulf adaptations. I gave a lecture entitled: “Grendel’s Mother: How Silenced Women Speak Through Historical Fiction.”


Additionally, I attended her class to answer their questions (and sign their books!). But things don’t always go the way you expect them to.

Sadie Hash, intrepid graduate student and cool-as-a-cucumber driver as I FaceTime with Lorraine’s class

Intrepid University of Houston grad student Sadie Hash scooped me up after my much delayed (4 hours) flight. I FaceTimed with Lorraine’s class as Sadie coolly drove to campus, where another student, Travis, whisked me away from curb to classroom to perform live.

Somehow being late was all to the good. The students were a bit intimidated to meet a real live author. But after FaceTiming with me for half an hour as we puzzled over the sound quality of the connection and they got a glimpse of the blue and green streaks in my hair, they relaxed.

Engaging with the audience

Then, Lorraine had fashioned a convivial mead (wine) hall for my lecture with warm and responsive guests. I spoke to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty. It was an utter delight to converse with Anglo-Saxonist John McNamara, whose 2005 translation of Beowulf is a Barnes and Noble Classic.

We listened to Sarah McSweeney’s poignant rendition of Helga’s Song from my book.

In a wonderful surprise, a dear friend, Sabrina Martinez, was able to attend my talk.

A great surprise! My friend from Swarthmore College Alumni Council (now she’s on the Board!), Sabrina Martinez. It was a thrill she could attend and we could chit-chat late into the night

That was a good day.

Moses before the Burning Bush by Raphael

The next afternoon, after having a delightful time filming an interview with Lorraine  and conversing with faculty and students, Lorraine, Sadie, and I made it to one of my favorite museums: the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.

Studies of Feet by Bartolomeo Passarotti

Most amusing was our conversation about Rubens’ Leda and the Swan.

Leda and the Swan by Rubens

The closer you look, the more it strikes the viewer as a tad…kinky. We were very giggly.

Leda and the Swan by Rubens, close up.

Art–whether written or visual or musical–continues to inspire, bringing us together in convivial spaces of exchange and dynamic warmth. Thanks to Lorraine and her students for fostering such a delightful climate and partnership!

“I Love My School” in Runic Letters…and Harry Potter’s Scar

I love my school, writes one 4th grader. Nothing unusual in that. Except she writes it…in runes!!!

How do kids learn to write runic letters? Through the wonderful Young Writers’ Workshop that takes place every year at Travis Heights Elementary School. Not only do I love this school because my own kids had been pupils there, but because it continues to be an active part of my life. These 3rd-5th graders have the opportunity to work with writers from all fields–playwrights, business/tech writers, songwriters…and medievalists!

Pupils writing imaginative and fanciful tales.

The other thing I learned today: one pupil was looking at the runic alphabet and we were discussing how “Z” is really complicated. But “S,” I said, “looks like a lighting bolt.” The pupil said, “It looks like Harry Potter’s scar!” All these years, and I never made that connection before: his scar DOES look like the runic S.

I hope I can keep learning from these amazing kids. One added treat: I was in the room with the wonderful 3rd grade teacher — who happens to be the mom of my son’s dear friend. Happy day!

Using runes as models


Haunting Word from Old English

wer-genga, m.n: a stranger who seeks protection in the land to which he has come. [WAIR-yen-ga]

via wer-genga — Old English Wordhord

Old English Wordhord sends a daily word. Somehow, wer-genga tantalizes. Aren’t we all strangers seeking protection at some point in our lives? Let’s show compassion to our fellow strangers, making us compatriots with everyone.

God Jul! My Ancestors Crafted Beowulf’s Armor…and other lessons from the classroom

My grandfather, Werner Wehlen, in his 80s.

God Jul!  My ancestors crafted Beowulf’s armor. Ok, maybe it’s a stretch. Earlier this semester, one of my students blurted out, “That means your great-grandparents made Beowulf’s armor!” I’d like to explore the  justification for this suggestion on this day, in memory of what would have been my mother Joan’s 95th birthday.

Her father, my grandfather Werner–who called himself a Viking–was born in the 19th century in Sundsvall, Sweden. He grew up on a farm where tomtens knotted the horses’ tails every night. The milk Werner left out was always drunk by them. So he maintained.


His little footprints in the snow….

This old Swede, as I knew him, said he was descended from Weland or Wayland the Smithy, the smith god in the Norse and Germanic mythological panoply. After all, his last name was Wehlen, though my Swedish cousins spell it Welin. So when Beowulf talks about his armor as “Welandes geweorc” or “the work of Weland” (line 455), that must be my ancestor’s artistry at play–at least according to my student. I like to think that’s true.

Oh! You’ve caught a glimpse of him!

In case you don’t believe in the tomten, see this book by Viktor Rydberg, which features the beautiful paintings of Harald Wiberg. Below is the very copy my second cousin, Barbro, sent to my brothers and me in 1963. I still read it out loud to my children, just as my mother, Joan, did, on a still Christmas Eve. Maybe Weland is listening, too?

The copy sent from Sweden to New Jersey.

The inscription from almost 60 years ago.

“Old English is Mine!”: Diversity and Old English — Part 2

Nahir studies medieval literature and culture.

I love what happens in the classroom. Just before the end of our penultimate day discussing Beowulf, one of my students burst out, “How is a brown girl like me supposed to identify with Beowulf?”

The next class we discussed issues of diversity and how we can use them to explore Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon culture. I shared with my students all sorts of material, including about Jorge Luis Borges, the brilliant Argentinian author who read, wrote about, and translated Old English literature. I shared an undergraduate honors student’s thesis written for me in 2004 called “Jorge Luis Borges: Nazi critic / by Andrew Edward Dunsky. We explored The Public Medievalist, a blog site devoted to defending medieval studies from white supremacist racist rhetoric.

Most importantly, I opened a page to my blog on Grendel’s Mother. This particular entry, called “Old English is Mine!”: Diversity and Old English, includes a poem by Nahir I. Otaño Gracia, the medievalist. She writes about how just because she is from Puerto Rico, she has “as much right to” Old English as anyone else.

I asked my student if she would be willing to read the poem—in both modern English and Spanish– aloud to the entire class. She was willing and sparked the most wonderful class. Later she wrote me, “I just wanted to thank you for showing me the poem in class. It was very empowering for me, and I’m very grateful for that.” Later she fashioned a wonderful final project in which she translated a favorite song in Spanish into Old English. She chose is “La Trenza” by the Chilean artist Mon Laferte. As she writes so eloquently, “Overall, this was a very healing project of me. Being able to reclaim a part of my culture which has been co-opted by hateful groups has allowed me to feel welcome and validated as a student at Texas State. Additionally, merging two very different aspects of my identity has given me the opportunity to understand the value of diversity and inclusion.”

I’m grateful to my student, for opening the minds and hearts of all our students—and me.

And I’m especially grateful to Nahir for sharing this poem that allowed for a moment of grace in the classroom. And here’s the song that inspired my student so much.