Saturday, February 07, 2009

And Then You Die

I have an obsession with Beowulf, perhaps because it's the only classic epic I think I understand. To me it expresses the most basic fact of human life--We achieve when we are young and strong, then grow old and die. "Come in what shape it may, death will subdue even thee, thou hero of war." (Hinds' version.) This to me seems far more profound then what little I got from The Odyssey--Men are pigs.

I first became aware of Gareth Hinds' graphic version of Beowulf two years ago, and just stumbled upon it on the new book shelf at the library this past week. I can't tell you how satisfying it is to read something that grabbed my interest once upon a time, because usually I just forget about these things.

I think you have to have read a traditional version of this story to really appreciate what Hinds has done here in terms of telling the tale with so little text. Yes, there are pages with larger narrative boxes then we usually see in a graphic novel and there are no dialogue balloons at all. But there are far more wordless pages, pages that take us through entire battles. This Beowulf really demonstrates how a graphic novel can show action.

The overall visual impression is stunning, and the narrative sticks to the original storyline. There's no sex in this Beowulf the way there was in 2007's movie version. You can't pretend that Beowulf got what was coming to him because he did the nasty with someone he shouldn't have.

In this graphic Beowulf, just as in the original old text, Beowulf got what is coming to all of us.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Somebody's With Me On Beowulf

I'm not the only person who has a thing for Beowulf. Camille at Book Moot has actually seen and heard part of it performed by a bard speaking in Old English.

I was more than willing to go watch a movie that included both male and female cartoon nudity, but I don't know if I would have gone out for a clothed bard speaking in Old English. I think Camille has me beat.


Friday, November 23, 2007

You Thought I Was Getting Off Topic With All That Beowulf Stuff, Didn't You?

Wednesday morning, I heard from BDT. He had just finished reading Beowulf with his sixth grade class, and, he said, the kids really liked it. I found this very interesting because just the night before I'd had a revelation about Beowulf while brushing my teeth.

Okay, here is the basic Beowulf story. Beowulf, while at the height of his strength and power, kills a couple of monsters and saves the day for Hrothgar, the king of a foreign country. Then Beowulf goes home where he is a king to his own people. Time passes. A new monster or dragon or something comes and poses a threat to Beowulf's kingdom. The old hero battles the monster to save his people. But not being at the height of his strength and power, he doesn't survive the experience.

I think this story basically tells the story of human life. We make our greatest achievements while at our physical and mental peak. Then time passes, we grow old, and can't do what we were able to do before. Or, at least, not as well. The people who created and first told Beowulf were expressing this fact of life that no one can get past. The story has endured, not because people loved it but because they recognized that it truly was making a statement about the human condition.

Not exactly a story I would have thought sixth graders would appreciate, though. It's not a story I would think teenagers would care for much, either, but there were a number of them in the theater this afternoon for the showing of the new Beowulf movie. I'm guessing they liked it well enough because the movie has been juiced up quite a bit with sex. In it, Grendel's Mom is a hotty who seduces men, who are then corrupt and lost because they did the deed with her. They also provide her with sons who years later seek their fathers out and wreak havoc upon them.

True, the movie version has a peppier story line than the true Beowulf. It also has a story that's easier to take. We don't want to believe that monsters will just randomly attack people. Random things could happen to us, too, after all. We want to believe that victims do something to bring their fates upon themselves. Beowulf didn't just grow older and weaker the way we all will. He got what was coming to him because of what he did with the Angelina Jolie cartoon.

Actually, that storyline probably is better for kids. There's a moral there for them. With the true Beowulf they're just told a fact of life. With the movie, they're told not to have sex with beautiful monster women who live in caves.

It is good advice.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I Don't Care. I Still Want To See It.

Salon slams the movie Beowulf big time, comparing it very unfavorably to The Lord of the Rings movies.

Fortunately, I've never read any of the Rings books, and I've never seen any of the movies. Tolkien Shmokien.

I can't even say I like Beowulf all that much. I can't say I really understand it or get the point. In the Salon essay, Gary Kamiya says Beowulf is "unfathomable." "The inscrutability of "Beowulf" has made it contested ground for scholars for over a century...even experts cannot agree on what it means..."

That intrigues me. Beowulf is "the earliest piece of vernacular European literature," according to Kamiya. Why? Why did this story engage early Anglo-Saxon people? Why has it survived all these centuries?

Oh! Oh! I'm getting a story idea here, folks! What about the epics that got away? The ones people loved back then that disappeared? What do you suppose those were like?

Oops. Sorry, sorry. What was I talking about? Yes. Beowulf. It intrigues me, whatever to hell it means. And every few years it turns up again in my life in some form or another.

So, I'm hoping to get out to see it this holiday weekend. The question is, do I bite the bullet and drive all the way to the IMAX theater or just dart down to the local spot where I can see it for nothing because I have gift certificates? I'm too lazy and cheap to go far and spend much. But, on the other hand, what if IMAX is the way to see it, and I ruin the experience by being lazy and cheap?


Friday, November 16, 2007

Gaiman And Beowulf

Neil Gaiman was one of the screenwriters for Beowulf. My young family member BDT is teaching sixth grade this year, and he and his colleagues were reading a version of the epic-that-just-won't-go-away to their classes.

According to Salon, maybe they shouldn't be planning any field trips to see the movie. I was thinking of going, though. It's playing on IMAX nearby.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

A New Beowulf

I just discovered the blog AmoxCalli through one of its contributors,Gina MarySol Ruiz. (A member of the Cybil's nominating panel for graphic novels, by the way.) Sol has posted a review of Beowulf, a graphic novel by Gareth Hinds. You can check out the book's publishing history at The Comic.Com.

I was interested in a graphic novel adaptation of Beowulf not because I'm a major fan of the story but because I keep going back to it. I read it in college (Classic and Folk Epic class) and later read Grendel by John Gardner. (Hmmm. Do I still have that somewhere?) Like Sol, I also read Seamus Heaney's Beowulf. I found that version quite readable and, for what it's worth, a relative who might have been around middle school age at the time read it, too.

I don't know what it means when you're drawn to something you can't actually claim to love or to be terribly knowledgable about. Well, for one thing, it means I'm going to notice a graphic novel version. But beyond that I'm at a bit of a loss.

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