I finally managed to see the recent Beowulf & Grendel movie. My first reaction was that it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Be warned: there may be spoilers here…
First of all, it looked beautiful. Filming in Iceland was a brilliant idea—it substituted well for a pristine medieval Denmark. And the sets and costumes (though one can certainly pick out anachronisms) were effective—not bad compared to most Hollywood-medieval. Certainly they shouldn’t have had stirrups, but they were riding little Icelandic ponies instead of huge stallions. And I enjoyed touches like the Thor’s hammers the Danes were wearing and the Anglo-Saxon glassware (known as claw beakers), though I may be one of the few who notice such things.
The performances were generally good, and they really brought out the sympathy for Grendel that I always thought was there—indeed I always bring up the point when teaching the poem.
As for the plot and the script, naturally some changes had to be made in order for the story to work on the screen. It didn’t really bother me that Grendel’s attacks were drawn out, rather than having Beowulf defeat Grendel on the first night he tries. That’s just the way movies often work in order to build the tension.
As for some of the other changes, although they weren’t necessarily problematic, I have to ask why. I didn’t quite see why it was necessary to give Grendel the motivation of revenge for the killing of his father, rather than the simpler sour grapes for being excluded and the fact that trolls or draugar or whatever he is just act that way. It had the effect of turning the plot into that of an Icelandic saga with a blood feud. I suppose to some extent that’s already implied in the plot with Grendel’s mother seeking revenge. But does Grendel really need to have a father? Still at least this detail is not inconsistent with Germanic legend.
The element that bothered me most was the addition of the character Selma. Besides the fact that I thought she was unnecessary, she kind of stood out like a sore thumb, and was a bit irritating with her moral self-righteousness. She provided insight into Grendel’s character for Beowulf, but he really isn’t supposed to have that insight—Grendel is supposed to be too far removed from the world of man to be understood.
Well, I could go on, but it would soon descend into a lengthy discourse on my reading of Beowulf, so I leave it at that. Any Anglo-Saxonist ought to see it if given the chance, whatever one thinks about it. It might even be interesting to see what students thought about it, comparing it with the original text.
And oh yes—Andy Orchard was given special thanks in the credits…
A couple of weeks ago my Latin class had an end-of-term party. The students all made various foods, including some traditional recipes. Though we couldn’t have the actual infamous Roman delicacy stuffed dormice, one student simulated it with jam-filled Timbits with icing for eyes and noses and licorice for tails — kind of terrifying but very amusing! My wife also made up some barley water — the water from boiling barley mixed with sweet wine and honey — much more drinkable than you might guess.
For entertainment, we read my favourite Medieval Latin poem, Nunc est bibendum (which means ‘It’s time to drink’), and played Latin Scrabble. Coincidentally, the CMS had its annual Latin Scrabble tournament, though the results haven’t been posted yet. My students seemed to really have fun with it, and I would be very pleased if the game took root here.
My students also gave me a giant thank-you card (written in Latin of course), which was very touching. I’ll really miss this group of students — we had a lot of fun this term, and they’re a quite good bunch. I do really like teaching language classes, be it Latin or Old English.
Somehow I managed to only blog once in March. On top of that, it’s been ages since I’ve written a real medieval post. Partly this is due to the fact that I haven’t been teaching medieval courses, so I’m often thinking about other things, but as I work on my Kalamazoo paper and other research of my own over the next little while I will no doubt have more to say.
In the meantime, may I suggest you get your medieval fix by reading Geoffrey Chaucer’s blog. It’s really quite well done. But the fun doesn’t stop there, as John Gower and Katherine Swynford also have blogs. (For my non-medieval readers, have a look at the Wikipedia entries on Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, and Katherine Swynford to see why this is all so funny.)
What I want to know is why it’s all these Middle English figures who have blogs. Why not the Anglo-Saxons like King Alfred or Ælfric or Wulfstan or Cynewulf…