Wednesday, February 20, 2008

a tale of two Beowulfs

So, this past Sunday was our Mithlond meeting, the monthly get-together of our book discussion group. Unfortunately, we had minimal turnout (three people) due to folks being ill, or away, or in the midst of a family crisis, or what not. Too bad, since we had a great book selection -- any translation of BEOWULF -- though as is often the case with book groups the resulting discussion ranged far and wide. It would have been fun to have compared the story with the awful movie that came out a few months ago (due out on dvd in two weeks, so if you're a masochist and you missed it your second chance is coming up soon), but not all of us had seen it so we didn't go into it in much detail. Perhaps another time.
Janice did bring out a great quote from Tom Weller's CULTURE MADE STUPID [1987], which casts BEOWULF in a somewhat different light through the following little-known scene:

Meanehwael, baccat meaddehaele, monstaer lurccen;
Fulle few too many drincce, hie luccen for fyht.
THen Hreorfneorhtdhwr, son of Hrwaerowdheororthwl,
AEsccen aewful jeork to steop outsyd.
THud! Bashe! Crasch! Beoom! THe bigge gye
Eallum his bon brak, byt his nose offe . . .

(Note that a few of the d's in there in the names shd really be eths (=th), just as some of the ae's shd be a compound letter.)

This of course reminded both Allan and myself of Richard Armour's wonderful little book ENGLISH LIT RELIT [1969], which saved my sanity back when I was studying for my master's exams. Here's what Armour has this to say about the question of BEOWULF's authorship:

"Its author is unknown, and this has led to several interesting theories. One is that the author kept his name a secret, after he realized what he had written, for the sake of his family . . . Still another theory is that there was no author, and the whole thing was a hoax, dreamed up by English professors who had to have something with which to begin Sophomore Survey."

Still, all in all, I think it could be argued that both these parodies give a better idea of the original work than that Gaiman-Avary monstrosity. But maybe that's just me.


current reading: THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD (and 202 strong contenders) by Keith Olbermann [2006]

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