>Last word on Beowulf

>One of my students forwarded me the link to this article in Salon by Gary Kamiya, in which the author laments the failure of tone and spirit of the Beowulf movie by comparing it to Beowulf-scholar J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of that text. So far this is the best analysis I’ve seen of why Beowulf the movie was so disheartening for those of us who love the poem; and it’s a wonderful antidote to all those annoying reviews, good or bad, that start with a reference to “the poem you were forced to read in high school” or “the poem you hated in high school.” Here’s a sample:

“Beowulf” doesn’t fail because it changes the story: It fails because it is so busy juicing up the story that it does not create a mythical universe. It has no transfiguring vision. It seizes upon an ancient tale, whose invisible roots run deep into our psyches, and uses it to construct a shiny, plastic entertainment. It takes a wild fable and turns it into a tame story. But “Beowulf” is the kind of story that is meaningless unless it is part of a cosmology. It is, in short, a myth.

Thank you, Mr. Kamiya, for an elegant and thoughtful article.

4 thoughts on “>Last word on Beowulf

  1. >So far this is the best analysis I’ve seen of why Beowulf the movie was so disheartening for those of us who love the poemUh, no. That would be, seriously, your piece on the film and its characters. Kamiya’s piece isn’t bad, at least by its second page, and it ought to be praised for knowing some differences between the early and later Middle Ages (“the figure of the corrupting, sexually powerful witch-woman is more associated with the later Middle Ages”), but it’s still written in a mode of criticism that yours, thank goodness, superseded. Yours is politicized and particular; Kamiya’s is, well, grand and vague, and its frequent appeals to the first-person plural (“our ancestral language”; “our shared cultural heritage”) sounds a bit too much like this.Bravo for your good work.

  2. >Karl,Aw, shucks, thanks! But maybe I should’ve clarified: Kamiya’s piece was the best I’d seen in the mainstream media. Or the best not by a medievalist. And actually, I also like Manola Dhargis’s review in the Times (even though I think I just misspelled her name).

  3. >Kamiya’s piece was the best I’d seen in the mainstream media.Fair enough! At least it didn’t begin with some variant of “this ain’t your father’s Beowulf,” and that, sadly, sets it apart from the other reviews.

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