Monday, 19 November 2007

The Roar of Beowulf

Right, well… It’s not really late noon, but afternoon yet still, you got a load of cosplay pics to enjoy AND I was with ergoproxy on the phone – poor fella – and you do not hang up on someone who is in the army against their wishes. Anyhow, today we’re talking about the much anticipated 3D movie, featuring models and voices of well-known actors, such as Ray Winstone (Beowulf), Anthony Hopkins (Hrothgar), Angelina Jolie (Grendel’s Mother), John Malkovich (Unferth), Brendan Gleeson (Wiglaf) and Robin Wright Penn (Wealthow). For the full cast go here.

It’s really amazing how a bit of animated, 3D blood and approximately 7cm of extra 3D Jolie/Grendel’s Mother breasts constitute reason for making this trailer “Restricted Audience” only. I mean, haven’t these people figured out that their children see more blood and violence on their PC screens, action and horror movies or decent news channels every day? But I will not let this escalate to global social commentary, no dear sirs and ladies. I only want to give you an educated glimpse into the historic reality behind this film.

Beowulf is an epic poem written in Old English, its oldest surviving manuscript dating from the end of the 10th or the beginning of the 11th century A.D. (also known as the Nowell Codex). Let us clarify something: when we say, “Old English”, it has nothing to do with your father’s, grandfather’s, great-grandfather’s English and onwards, or even Shakespearean English. No, in truth it is more accurate to say that this is the oldest surviving Germanic Epic, since English, Swedish and modern German originated from the common Western Germanic progenitor tongue, which used runes common with the Scandinavians; on the other hand, the Eastern Germanic progenitor tongue gave birth to the Gothic tongue (as in Goths, Ostrogoths and Visigoths, not black-dressed people with too much make-up). Even though the manuscript is dated centuries after the Germanic tongue went on to give birth to the Saxon tongue and then the aforementioned Old English, it is almost certain that it was copied by an older version or even the recording of oral tradition dating centuries back. The text has been identified as having two authors, the second taking over at line 1939 out of 3183 and it mixes Western Saxon dialect with Old English and uses the evolution of Gothic script, as shown below.

The First Page from the Nowell Codex.

The story it relates takes place in the late 5th and early 6th century A.D. and describes the exploits of the hero Beowulf, against the monstrous Grendel, the monster’s witch-mother and finally, a Dragon. I will not tire you with the actual story, which you can find in any number of internet sites or printed editions in (modern) English or experience in the Neil Gaiman version (either the comic book or movie). I only want to stress a few issues: first, the name “Beowulf”. It is widely (and mistakenly) thought that it means “Great Wolf”. There are actually three interpretations: the first literally means bee-wolf, an ancient (Old English) vernacular for “Bear”, since they are both furry predators and a Bear likes honey, thus making it a “bee-eating-wolf”. Beowulf was supposed to have the strength of ten men, so “Bear” seems reasonable. Secondly, it could derive from the Old Dutch term for “black woodpecker”, common in Norse regions and persistent to the death. Thirdly, the most recent interpretation (2005) is that it’s a permutation of the Old Norse word for “Thor’s Wolf”, which contains the name of the Germanic god Beow, an earlier version of the God of Thunder.

The new Video Game’s Interpretation of Beowulf as King.

Lastly, I want to make something clear: however you may have seen it (or will see it as I will, next Saturday) in the film, in the original story Beowulf had nothing to do with Grendel and his mother, save slay them and free the people of King Hrothgar from terror. His only sin may have been in his somewhat arrogant and uncontrolled behavior but that is to be expected by a man who was probably a Norse berserker.

There have been another two cinematic Beowulfs: First, Christophe Lambert in 1999, with the porn-star Layla Roberts as Grendel’s Mother (which is why the movie was worth it). Second, Gerard Butler (of 300 and Phantom of the Opera fame) in 2005, in the film Beowulf & Grendel, a more human, historical approach to the legend. It is an interesting film, with good performances but hardly amazing.

Layla Roberts.

Well, that’s it for me, except for a few links:

Beowulf in Cinema

(New) Beowulf Official Site

Audio and Transcript of the Old English Beowulf (for those of you who wonder what it would look like on printed paper or what it would sound like back then).

See you soon with more cosplay pics and on Friday, with our Literary Section and our regular update.


No comments: