Old English Meets Modern Fiction

An epic inspired by Old English literature as collected by Oxford World’s Classics and translated by Kevin Crossley-Holland in The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology

I am dedicated to the praise of Heaven’s Guardian,
the Lord’s might and mindful purpose,
the work of the Father of Glory; He,
Eternal Deity, grounded each wonder,
He, Awesome Creator, was the Fashioner
of the canopy of heaven as a roof for men.
Mankind’s Guardian dressed this ground below, the world for men,
Everlasting King, Almighty Lord.

—Cædmon’s Hymn, translated by Anderwulf the South-Paxson. It is this hymn in which Anderwulf sees God as the perfect example of One committed to comitatus.

This is the prologue to an awesome assignment I got to do for my medieval literature course in spring 2022. Old English literature at times can be and sound like just that . . . old. It is really easy to read these Old English stories and say, “Okay, and what of it?” Or, “Why should I care what some guy named Cædmon said many centuries ago?”

It is really easy to say this about many of what we would call English Classics, and to be honest, I do it too! I am not the biggest advocate for the English Classics; however, this project taught me something important: Not only are these Classics the foundation of English that we continue to build on in the 21st century, but they continue to tell us about the collective human experience, why we do what we do, and show us things about ourselves that we perhaps have never seen before; storytelling (and the preservation of English Classics) is one of the ways we continue to shape history, and Old English literature is no exception.

But I didn’t stop there. This project, which was originally supposed to be a standard research paper, gave me the opportunity to write a creative fiction epic based on some of the greatest works of Old English Literature. As shown at the top of this blog post, it is an “epic inspired by Old English literature as collected by Oxford World’s Classics and translated by Kevin Crossley-Holland in The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology.” The proceeding poem is one of the most famous of Old English literature’s classics: “Cædmon’s Hymn”; however, in the words of Anderwulf the South-Paxson, who sees “God as the perfect example of One committed to comitatus”—undying, self-sacrificing, and reckless loyalty. My epic is about this character, Anderwulf, who is the unnamed wanderer in the Old English poem “The Wanderer,” except he is not just the wanderer in that poem—no. My Anderwulf is a South-Paxson warrior, who, over the course of this epic through many Old English Classics, proves undoubtedly that he is one committed to comitatus.

My epic is divided into chapters (represented below as bullet point summaries) that chart Anderwulf’s legacy as a warrior through many tales of Old English literature:

  • He is part of a tribe called the South-Paxsons that avenges their lord Cynewulf when Cyneheard slays him (inspired from the Old English work “Cynewulf and Cyneheard”).
  • The South-Paxsons are victorious at Brunanburh against the viking invaders where Anderwulf again demonstrates his comitatus to his lord (inspired from the Old English work “The Battle of Brunanburh”).
  • The South-Paxsons are slaughtered at Maldon by a larger viking force. Anderwulf is presumed dead (having not fled his lord’s side), but it turns out he survives the conflict by some miracle and awakes once the battle is over (inspired by the Lord English work “The Battle of Maldon”).
  • He reflects on the ruin his life has become as he escapes the vikings scavenging the battlefield as one who although loyal until the end, is now punished by having remained alive (inspired by the Old English work “The Ruin”).
  • He wanders in this sorrow of living hell (inspired by the Old English work “The Wanderer”).
  • He finally finds rest in king Alfred’s court and realizes that this is his future call to destiny and reward for his comitatus—God did not forget him. He reflects on his hardship through his time spent at sea in his sorrow and how he overcame it, and how he never forgot his comitatus and how it brought him here (inspired by various collected pieces of Old English literature about King Alfred’s court).

These Old English poems are considered legendary, and can sometimes be forgotten, or, people may just not even care about them. But what projects such as mine aim to achieve is the beautiful idea that Classics of literature can be adapted, built on, modernized, and continually etched in history to make sure they are never forgotten. By taking these classic works of literature and adapting them in a modern fictional narrative, they have potential to re-enter the modern world in a unique, personal, and epic way. The goal is not to change these works, but to excite people about them and encourage them to want to continue to cherish the lessons they continue to teach us to this day, such as that of comitatus.

MKarshnaMatthew Karshna
Student Representative, Southern Region, 2021-2023
Alpha Alpha Omega Chapter
University of Georgia, Athens, GA


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