Monday, November 26, 2007


Anyone seen the new "Beowulf" flick? Neil Gaiman co-wrote the script, and Robert "What Lies Beneath" Zemeckis directed it, so I'm intrigued, even though I hear it's one of the nouveau movies where everyone acted in front of a blue screen, with all the visuals overlaid later on via CGI, including Hrothgar’s beard.
Stephen Whitty, the film critic for the Star-Ledger, gave it a mixed review. I think he enjoyed the story itself, possibly because it was "Beowulf" and if you have a degree in English of any sort (or are a guardian of culture, which a film critic certainly is as opposed to a movie reviewer), you are required to like "Beowulf" even if you thought it was tedious when you read it in high school and college.
For those not familiar with the story, "Beowulf" is the oldest known piece of literature in Old English, also called Anglo-Saxon, and it reflects a lot of those sensibilities even though it ostensibly is a Christian, rather than pagan, tale. In the story, the hall Heorot is under nightly siege by a monster called Grendel, who comes in and kills people at his leisure. The mighty Beowulf comes and fights Grendel to the death, thus making himself the target of vengeance by Grendel's mother. He defeats her and lives to a ripe old age, when he dies after slaying a dragon.

Personally, I still have mixed feelings about "Beowulf" as something to read. It's a great piece of literature and all, because it's the oldest extant poem composed in English, and it's a great literary window into our Anglo-Saxon heritage, and it shows the culture at a state of transition from pagan to early Christian, where the people still loved their old stories and were retelling them with a bad gloss of their new faith, yada yada yada, but at least the translations I've read have been pretty dull, and full of endless boasting about how tough Beowulf is, how great a king Hrothgar has been, how mightily Bob the Builder swung his hammer Mjolinir-Craftsmann in the construction of Heorot, and so on. I remember reading it in college and getting to the part where Beowulf was fighting the dragon, and thinking, "Waitasecond. What happened to Grendel's mother?" My eyes had glazed over for a third of the poem, and I had missed it completely.
I borrowed a copy of a "Beowulf" graphic novel from the library about a month ago and read it to Evangeline. Because it was a visual medium, it cut all the description and much of the plot exposition, and told the story in a fairly straightforward manner. I was actually able to show her how Beowulf taps into the same archetype as Heracles, Superman and the other larger-than-life, kick-your-ass figures she's enjoyed reading about. She seemed to enjoy it at the time, though she's never asked me to read it to her again.
She did make some joke about weregild the next day, though. Personally, I think that's a concept we need to recover in English-speaking society. If you harm me or my kin, or damage our reputation, I should be able to demand your life in restitution, either as a blood-payment or as a lifetime of servanthood. I'm not particular.

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