Friday, 12 June 2009

Beowulf boring???

I remember reading the Author's Notes for Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead several years ago. In it, he explained why he felt the need to rewrite Beowulf. Simply put, he believed Beowulf was very boring and - on a dare - set out to write a more exciting story using the plot elements of Beowulf (though he changed quite a number of things in the retelling). His novel became the basis for the film The Thirteenth Warrior, which is how I heard of it.

Now, I studied Beowulf in school. It was the first thing (after the Bible) in my Old English class. We only did a small sample as a translation exercise because the language went through a lot of changes after Beowulf was written so learning all the vocabulary necessary to translate the poem was deemed unnecessary. We read the poem in translation. Yes there's a lot of genealogy and repetition but it's a POEM. And what critics tend to forget is that this poem was never meant to be READ. It was meant to be PERFORMED.

So it's with great pleasure that I discovered this video at SF Signal (s0rry about the redirection. I couldn't figure out how to get the video here - downloading & uploading it didn't work). A British gentlemen, Benjamin Bagby, has recorded Beowulf the way it was meant to be appreciated. As a performance - poetry mixed with music. Poetry was to the past what television (or the internet) is to us now. It was not dry words on a page or bored recitation. It was recited with passion, playing on the emotion of the audience. It was many things. Boring was never one of them.


Someone said...

I'm glad you mentioned the Bagby Beowulf performance. It is also available on DVD and Bagby tours with the program regularly. However, though he lives in Europe, Mr. Bagby is originally from Illinois and graduated from Oberlin (see

Jessica Strider said...

Thanks for the extra information!

Joe Chiappetta said...

I had no idea that The 13th Warrior was derived from Beowulf. It's amazing how creations give birth to other creations.