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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/7468/who-was-beowulf/

Who Was Beowulf?

November 22, 2007 by

It took twice through, but I’m finally convinced; Beowulf is a wonderful film. There is plenty to recommend it, even if it had stuck to the original plot line.

Nearly every frame is beautiful and riveting. The visuals seemed to have borrowed from the field of gaming, so you can never quite tell if what you are looking at is real or animated. The music is a kick. Beowulf is himself thrilling to watch, as are the monsters, dragons, swords, and, above all, the time: it is set in the 6th century Scandinavia. The viewer is convinced that it must have been something like this.

Having read the newest translation several years ago, by Seamus Heany, I was not prepared for how the film would change the plot, which is rather linear and boring in the original, but, hey, it’s the 10th century, so who can complain? A monster vexes a town. Beowulf arrives and kills it, kills the monster’s mother, and becomes king and then does other amazing things before he dies a heroes death.

In the new film version, this is a remarkable undercurrent. Hrothgar, the king that comes before, has a hidden secret and it deals with the monster’s mother. It seems that Grendel is his offspring, and the witch, played by Angelina Jolie, is irresistible to him, and, later, to Beowulf. Beowulf kills Grendel and then sets out for the mother, who seduces him into given her yet another offspring that will return to torment the community many years later. Beowulf lies, however. He had given in to her, but only tells everyone that he killed her.

His secret is known only to a few: his wife and his closest associate. Both decide not to pass it on. He is a hero and generations will sing his praises. So declare these court historians, and so it was to be, in the official version. And so the official version has stood.



happylee November 22, 2007 at 6:19 pm

I too was disappointed, at first, with the change, but then realized it had a touch more substance as a, as you say, “faustian” story.

It took your article for me to pick up on the Christian themes.

Anthony November 22, 2007 at 8:28 pm

Haven’t read the original poem or seen the film (I plan to), but apparently, as usual, Hollywood takes much creative licence.

Franklin Harris November 22, 2007 at 9:48 pm

I’m not really a fan of the motion-capture style computer animation used in Beowulf, but it certainly looks a lot better here than in The Polar Express, and, with the exception of Wealtheow (Robin Wright Penn), the people didn’t look like Barbie dolls. As far as the changes to the original poem go, they’re more additions than outright changes, with, of course, the exception of the relationship between Beowulf and Grendel’s mother. The result is a marriage of the original Scandinavian myth with Greek tragedy.

Mr.huh? November 22, 2007 at 11:24 pm

Very interesting article indeed. I saw the movie with some friends and we mostly agreed that is was pretty good despite the changes. It never struck me as perhaps being a comment on the fixing of history. After all, in the movie Beowulf’s people still believe that he killed Grendel’s mother and that the dragon at the end had no relation to him, and that story was passed down orally from generation to generation with only the movie viewer knowing the “truth”.

MIKEF November 23, 2007 at 7:45 am

I always think it is a mistake for Hollywood to change these classics for entertainment. We cannot know what is the true significance of what our ancestors have transmitted to us and we should transmit it to our descendants unchanged.

Stefan W. Christensen, a certified Dane, November 23, 2007 at 10:22 am

Just a bit of (possibly surprising) information: “Beowulf” is virtually unknown here in Scandinavia; it is a story made up in England, and it will in our part of the world only be known amongst English literature fans, as well as amongst Scandinavians with a special affiliation to England.

And, while we’re on the topic: Hamlet wasn’t actually called Hamlet; instead his name was Amled. But then again, as we all know, all those plays weren’t actually written by Shakespeare, but by another guy of the same name. :-)

Anthony November 23, 2007 at 11:04 am

Yes, I always used to think it was a Scandinavian epic; it surprised me to find out it was an Anglo-saxon one.

Andrew November 23, 2007 at 12:30 pm

In other words, the thousand-year-old tale was too modern for Hollywood, and they had to shape it into the two-thousand-year-old pattern of Greek Tragedy before they could handle it.

Curt Howland November 23, 2007 at 4:40 pm

The “Grendle’s mom seduces Hrothgar” was also used in http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120604/ Beowulf with Christopher Lambert.

I think the best write-up of the Beowulf story is “The 13th Warrior” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120657/ for which sadly I have never read the Michael Crichton novel.

Still, as others have said, if you’re going to read it then read the original.

Lloyd G November 24, 2007 at 8:08 am

You pose the question (parenthetically) Why doesn’t the religious right herald this movie? I assume you’re being facetious. The religious right has turned leader and power worship into one of the tenents of the faith. Who is that Jesus guy anyway?

J November 24, 2007 at 10:37 am

More simplistic ugliness from Lloyd G.

Get a life

TokyoTom November 25, 2007 at 9:24 pm

Interesting review here, linking the Beowulf tale to Tolkien and his book/movie:


Kyle November 29, 2007 at 9:59 am

I don’t know what to think of the movie now, from hearing all these mixed reviews cause I havn’t seen it yet, but I did read the original book. I also heard that freek.com is giving out a free screening of Beowulf and drinks.

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