This blog post makes available, for the first time, a new Modern English translation of a Dutch serial adaptation of Beowulf that was accompanied by a set of fifteen paper dolls, originally published anonymously in 1934.
Beowulf: A Paper Doll Pirate History (1934)
This set of paper dolls, based on the Old English poem Beowulf, appeared as fifteen weekly installments in at least three Dutch newspapers in the year 1934 under the heading “Beowulf: Een Zeerooversgeschiedenis” [Beowulf: A Pirate’s History]. The fifteen cut-out paper dolls represent the figures of Hrothgar, Grendel, Beowulf, Grendel’s mother, Hygelac and the dragon, as well as costumes that could be hung over the paper figurines. The cut-out images were accompanied by the text of a serial children adaptation of Beowulf, narrating its eponymous hero’s fight against the three monsters.
Beowulf: A Paper Doll Pirate History (1934) is just one of many examples of Dutch adaptations of the Old English poem (for another one, see: The history of Beowulf’s sandwich: A sketch about ‘fake news’ from 1909). In the Low Countries, Beowulf became one of those stories (along with Sigurd, the dragon slayer) that was deemed suitable for children to read. As is to be expected, this adaptation alters its early medieval English source to accommodate its youthful readers. For example, while mentions of death and horror are not necessarily shunned, the gloomy end of the original poem (with its repeated reproaches of the cowardice of Beowulf’s men and the impending doom of the Geats) is drastically changed: Beowulf forgives his followers for fleeing on this occasion.
The full set of Beowulf paper dolls, along with a new modern English translation of the fifteen installments of the text, is available on this website (I recommend you print out the text, using the ‘Booklet’ option in Acrobat Reader; alternatively, make a double-sided print of the document on A4 for larger cut-our paper dolls!):
The text in this booklet was drawn from Dutch newspapers from the 1930s. The Dutch text was published anonymously and is now out of copyright. It has been newly translated into English and accompanying images were copied and digitally modified from the scanned newspaper pages. The translation is faithful to the original text, barring some very minor changes for continuation’s sake. Each image is accompanied by its original colouring instructions (provided in italics); it is recommended to paste the figures of installments 1, 3, 5, 10, 12 and 14 on cardboard, so as to make sure they can stand upright, even with the additional weight of the various costumes.
I hope you enjoy playing with your Beowulf paper dolls and do let me know how your colouring efforts worked out!