It was the best of times; it was the worst of times---at least it was and, it appears, still is for those of us who love Old English poetry in general and its most important surviving example Beowulf in particular.
Now this isn’t the first time I’ve had these pleasurable yet distressing feelings, indeed, a few years ago I wrote about what seemed at that time to be the superabundancy of things movie-ish and Beowulfian, but today what then seemed like a mountain now looks remarkably like a pit (which in turn reminds me that many of those superabounding things they did to Beowulf were, in truth, the pits!)
Yes! Nowadays it seems that, next to blatant sex, there is nothing that moves movies like Beowulf, and judging by the one that’s about to emerge from it’s lair in November, Beowulf himself does indeed appear to be right next to sex; and from the trailers I’ve seen it appears that it is with Grendel’s mum (or to be more authentic his Mōdor) that Beowulf is up against it. As you probably remember, in the original poem G’s Mōdor is the sort of creature you wouldn’t like to pass in the street, let alone have sex with---and you can bet that she’s the kind of creature who, were you foolish enough to, and she happened to smoke afterwards cigarettes would not be involved in any discernible way. Though, I suppose, since in this film Grendles Mōdor is played by an Angelina Jolie you can’t blame him (not too much anyway) even though she does have a disturbing tendency to become somewhat Alien-ated.
This movie (called in a blinding flash of originality ‘Beowulf’) is merely the latest in a vast collection almost all of them spawned since the end of the nineties. The grandaddy of them all (or maybe, as you’ll see, that should be “grendel-daddy”) was an animation, the Australian ‘Grendel Grendel Grendel’ from 1981 with Peter Utinov in the title rôle (or at least in a third it) Then there was ‘The 13th Warrior’ in 1999 (though that was perhaps just a bit too Ibn Fadlanised to really count); and the very same year the truly, truly horrible Christopher Lambertised sci-fi version (like the latest one, and rather insultingly in my opinion, also called ‘Beowulf’); and the year before that there was another cartoon version the ‘Animated Epics: Beowulf’ (with the likes of Derek Jacobi doing the voices). Then there was the 2005 Icelandic version, the title of which pretty-well spanned the gamut of naming possibilities with ‘Beowulf and Grendel’ and, the same year as that was something called ‘Blade of the King Concept Film’ made, I believe, as a Beowulfian concept film which outdid all those “straight to video” b-movies and went straight to YouTube.
Then, earlier this year, and not to be confused with the latest version, there was ‘Beowulf: Prince of the Geats’ which added an interesting slant to the academic debate on just who the historical Geats were by casting a black man in the rôle.
There is even a 2006 DVD of Benjamin Bagby reciting large chunks of the poem to the accompaniment of an Anglo-Saxon hearpe, in Old English and (if I remember right) a rather temporaneously amorphous leather jerkin.
And I’m sure I’ve missed some in there somewhere, possibly a couple more made-for-tv versions .
So it should be clear to you by now that people who wouldn't know their “Hwat!”1 from their elbow are leaping on the bandwagon---or maybe more appropriately I should say “leaping into the funeral pyre”---to make it with Beowulf, and I bet you are wondering why---well just listen to this:
...obviously leaving the crunchy bits till last!
And now, at last, with passages like this we can hardly be surprised any more at all that Hollywood interest.
Cheerio for now
from Richard Howland-Bolton.
Richard is myn nama bearn cliffordes
1 Sometimes used to introduce speeches or even whole poems, hwat is often translated 'Lo!' or 'Listen!'or even 'Oi!"
2 A couple of translations:
Not that the monster was minded to pause!
Straightway he seized a sleeping warrior
for the first, and tore him fiercely asunder,
the bone-frame bit, drank blood in streams,
swallowed him piecemeal: swiftly thus
the lifeless corse was clear devoured,
e'en feet and hands.
That the monster did not think to delay,
but he quickly grasped, at the first occasion,
a sleeping warrior, rended without restraint,
bit into the bone-locks, from the veins drank blood,
swallowed great chunks; soon he had
the unliving one all devoured,
feet and hands
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