Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Nowell Codex

The Nowell Codex is a manuscript of old Britannia dating from the first millennium A.D. -- before the Norman invasion and conquest of England in 1066.

This manuscript contains several pieces: a telling of the life of Saint Christopher; a description of foreign lands and even more foreign animals; a copy of a letter from Alexander to Aristotle; and a poetic translation of the Book of Judith.

What makes it famous is an untitled epic poem from the 8th century which tells the story of a Geatish hero and his slaying of a monster, the mother of the monster and a dragon.

This epic saga is, of course, the story of Beowulf.

Beowulf was originally strictly an oral story, probably told to the sound of harp music. Read from paper, the story of Beowulf is odd and confusing -- most people don't finish the saga.

Recited out loud, by someone who is not only familiar and fond of the story, but well-versed in the tricks of the story-tellers art, Beowulf is thrilling, mournful, haunting, gripping and everything in-between.

I see that Hollywood has taken another hack at this ancient saga. Half of me really, really wants to go see this movie.

The other half of me is terrified that Hollywood is going to turn one of the earliest and finest examples of Western literature into unwatchable screaming drek.

*sigh*

I'm probably going to go see it, but I swear I'm going to be packing a horsewhip and a trout. If that same pompous, illiterate, hack poseur Philistine shows up and kvetches about the "simplistic plot", "lack of personal growth" or even mentions the words "interpersonal dynamics of the main characters" during this movie like he did for 'Troy', I'm going to beat him to death right there in the peanut gallery.

LawDog

36 comments:

ukecanek said...

"Read it before Hollywood does."

This is of course an advertising hyperbole, but it makes for good rule of thumb when it comes to literary adaptations.

Of course, in this case it would be "Have it read to you.." etc. I have read the Czech translation, and tried to read the original, but, as you say, it is confusing at best.

Do you know about any good recorded reading (or should I say storytelling?) of Beowulf? If so, could you point me to the source?

thanks

uke

toad said...

uUnless the trout has freezer burn I wouldn't waste it on a critic.

Pepper foam on the other hand...

CrankyProf said...

The only thing I needed to see was "Angelina Jolie as Grendel's mother."

The commercials already have me nauseous. Their idea of super-scary? She's...naked. But...
They gave her a scaly tail! Quelle horreur!

Just pass on it, LD. Seriously. You'll be happier.

BobG said...

I read it years ago when studying Anglo-Saxon; it loses a bit of something in modern English.
Just my opinion.

William the Coroner said...

You really can't go wrong by betting that Hollywood (comprised of course, of anti-American, semi-literate, self-satisfied ninnies who majored in communications and got C-) will bollix up something good.

Anonymous said...

The killed the story of Thermopylae. Roasted it good they did, and with a perfectly good story sitting on their shelf, too (Gates of Fire,Pressfield).
Why should Beowulf escape their clutches?
Charlatans.

KBCraig said...

I didn't mind the Hollywood version of a novelization revolving around Beowulf. "The 13th Warrior" wasn't bad, although it paled compared to the novel.

Anonymous said...

"The 13th Warrior" is one of my favorite veg out with a dish of chili cheese dip and fritoes afternoons.
However, "Beowulf" is sacrosanct, and should never have even been attempted. Hollywood does not do well with allegory or with the imagery of the old myths and legends.
Besides which, they lack the soul of a Druid, which is essential.
LawMom

refugee said...

I want to hijack this thread long enough to recommend something that's probably not going to be in the theaters very long: Gone Baby Gone. It's about a couple of private investigators hired to help find a missing child.

It got a 93% rating from both critics and viewers over at Rotten Tomatoes, an unprecedented agreement.

Do not watch the previews, and do not read the reviews. Just trust me, and go.

Part of the beauty of this film is the way it slowly, piece-by-piece, reveals its secrets. I simply cannot talk about it in any meaningful way without spilling the beans.

Those secrets, by the way, are not the kind of shallow jack-in-the-box surprises that, say, M. Night Shyamalan offers. Instead, they involve deep questions that the movie itself does not really answer, so you should see it with someone else, and schedule dinner afterwards, because you will want to talk about it.

It's very quiet, very low key. I had to catch a nine-dollar evening show, at an inconvenient theater, because it wasn't offered elsewhere or as a matinée. I bet it will be gone in a week or two.

Watch it now.

Anonymous said...

Two words, LD: Neil Gaiman. As in, "Neil Gaiman wrote the screenplay for the movie Beowulf."

All I need, really, even if it is all CGI and we don't get to really see AJ naked.

Jerry said...

L D, I shall not be discouraged from seeing the movie. I may wait for the DVD though.

Even though I do not think much of Hollywoods ability to accurately reproduce any good story.

I do not wish to pay the high price of movie tickets and line the pockets of the already overpaid and highly vocal liberals who live in a fantasy land.

LabRat said...

Agreed with the anonymouse: Neil Gaiman did the screenplay, and of the small handful of writers on the planet I trust to understand story, he's one of them.

On the other hand, Hollywood can fuck up anything... but I'm betting the trailers look as bad as they do because some empty suit thought the only thing that would sell the movie was Angelina Jolie's ass.

TBeck said...

There is a film out recently titled BEOWULF AND GRENDEL, starring Gerard Butler as Beowulf. If you have not seen it yet then get thee to a video store! Go!

It was produced in Scandinavia by Scandinavians and it shows. I used to think that THE 13TH WARRIOR was tops for the story but that excellent film has now been relegated to a close second place.

phlegmfatale said...

I thought the 2005 Beowulf was Icelandic? Wanted to see that but never got around to it.

I wish someone'd let Neil Gaiman do a treatment of Gilgamesh.

Oh, and I read the book first and thought The 13th Warrior should not have been attempted on film, but I now consider the film a marvelous guilty pleasure. True, the book is much better, but I thought it turned out rather well.

Billll said...

Saw it last night. The 3-d effects will knock your socks off. Jolie doesn't have a tail, and the plot has been modified. I'm seeing it as sort of a metaphor for life by some guy whose been through 2 or 3 bad divorces.
The action is great, the settings reasonably realistic, and the graphics quite good.
Spoilers on request.

Lergnom said...

Concerning movies made from anything resembling literature, it is almost axiomatic that Hollywierd's interpretation will bear little or no resemblance to what it was based on.
They started with Heinlein's 'Destination Moon' and gave it that sappy, happy Hollywood ending(they all died in the story), and-it-just-got-worse. 'Starship Troopers' might, I say might, have made it as a cotton candy matinee offering, but it wasn't even that good. I refused to see 'Puppet Masters' for fear of what they had done to it. The only movie I have ever seen which was even close to the original story was 'Murder on the Orient Express'.
I've seen AJ nekkit, and was not impressed.
Beowulf is not on my list.

Diamond Mair said...

It's funny, our daughter & I were JUST discussing this - she was talking to a {rather well-educated} co-worker, who was unaware that Beowulf was a poem - he insisted it was a "book" - progeny explained that it is a LONG poem, necessitating book length ................ ;-)
Semper Fi'
DM

BryanP said...

Two words, LD: Neil Gaiman. As in, "Neil Gaiman wrote the screenplay for the movie Beowulf."

True, but then Joss Whedon (Firefly) wrote the original script for the fourth Alien movie. The studio took his script and re-wrote it until it was absolute trash. You can still find the original Whedon script floating around the internet; it would have been a much better movie. Hopefully the same thing hasn't been done to Gaiman's work.

Bruce H. said...

>> I thought the 2005 Beowulf was Icelandic?

In all important senses, Iceland is part of Scandinavia.

phlegmfatale said...

wow, bruce - thanks - I dunno why I didn't know that - always thought Iceland was too fur-flung to be considered part of Scandinavia. nifty.

karla (threadbndr) said...

I'm like Uke - any source for an audio book reading done right?

And add me to the list for whom the 13th Warrior is a guilty pleasure. I think I need to watch it again this weekend!

Ky Person said...

I'd love to hear Beowulf read by someone who knows what he's doing.
As for the movie,I'll admit to being scared to go knowing Hollywood's propensity to muck up just about everything it gets its hands on.

I simply don't see her Lipness as Grendel's Mother.

Mr. Fixit said...

I have mixed emotions too. We studied Beowulf in high school. I still remember thinking that it was a great story, and wished I could have found a good translation.

That said, I kind of look forward to the movie, even if I do think it will not be true to the original.

The other side of that, in my opinion, is that those of us who know of th original will know what to expect-qualitiy of content wise. It may however bring Beowulf to a section of the population that would never experience it otherwise.

I asked my son who graduated high school last year if he remembered the story. He didn't. They didn't study it in school.

Maybe, just maybe, one of those who never knew it before will see it, gain an interest, and look further into literature.

Hey, it could happen.

Library-Gryffon said...

wrt phlegmfatale asking about Iceland viz a viz Scandinavia...

Way back when I lived in Iowa City, I remember a rather hysterical book I saw at the bookstore entitled "Scandinavian humor and other myths". It had pictures of the typical Dane, Norwegian, Swede, Finn, and Icelander(?), and they were all the same guy, dressed differently. About Iceland, the authors assured us that it was the only Scandinavian country that still spoke the language of the sagas, and that they never let you forget it.

Rick R. said...

I have a copy of that Scandinavian humor book.

The scary part is it's all true. . .

(My wife & I are Virginian's, but both of our mothers were from Minnesota, so we've both spent a lot of time there. . . )

Anonymous said...

The TV adverts for it look hideous.

Just the background in the scenes looks wierd to me.

Imagine what those morons will do with the cultural background that makes it such wicked powerful poem.

Nevermind the over the top monsters.

Hollywood: where "understated for effect", is simply not a concept that ever crossed their minds.

I'm pre-disposed to hate this.

Anonymous said...

In graduate school for a master's in English, we spent about half a semester on Beowulf in the original language. There's no translation that is as powerful as the original, but since few people are into the ancient British languages, translation is necessary.
Interpreting the imagery alone took a good six weeks. That's after we learned to think in the language, which is totally necessary to be able to do anything with the import of the story on all levels.
Try as I may, I simply cannot imagine how a movie could be effectively done-although I admit, I did like the effect of the dragon breathing fire under water.
LawMom

Laughingdog said...

The most recent commercial is all I needed to see to know that I don't want to waste one cent of money, or even one second of my time, watching it.

Watching a movie made of nothing but CGI (bad CGI at that) makes even the commercials painful. When I see the scene with Beowulf falling hundreds of feet to land on the dragons back, it brings back memories of how painful the Matrix series became when they had Neo fighting swarms of Agent Smith. Action scenes aren't gripping when they're not even remotely real.

Just say no LD, or at least let it hit Netflix/cable. With the latter, you won't feel compelled to ride it out just because you went through the hassle of going to a theater.

Blackeagle said...

Just got back from seeing the movie. I'd say it's pretty damn good.

Is it the same as the original poem? Definitely not. It takes some fairly major liberties. However, most of the changes come through the addition of events, or adding another layer to them. In fact, the way it's written if the events in the movie were real, the story that gets told about them generations later would be the exact same as the Beowulf poem we have today. Indeed, the concept of being remembered as an epic hero plays a fairly large role in the movie's story.

"The commercials already have me nauseous. Their idea of super-scary? She's...naked. But...
They gave her a scaly tail! Quelle horreur!"

As somebody else pointed out, it's not a tail. However, the more important point is that in the movie Grendel's Mother isn't supposed to be scary. I don't want to get too spoilerish, but let's just say that the character design does an excellent job of accomplishing exactly what the story requires of it.

karrde said...

Anyone wishing to read/hear a good recording of a good translation of Beowulf should check out Seamus Haney's version.

There are versions of the book with a CD attached, in which the translator reads the tale.

It is a good listen.

Anonymous said...

Think 'Astrix and Obelix' without the funny.
LawMom

Oldsmoblogger said...

Almost three dozen comments, and not one about Beowulf being better in the original Klingon. Are you sure this is the Intarw3bs?

DirtCrashr said...

Dreck, guaranteed by the presence of Angelina Jolie, the most overrated actress in the past fifty years. I'd recommend Michael Crichton's "Eaters of the Dead" as a better taking-off point - but it's already been done: The 13th Warrior. Gonna have to rent that one of these days...

Berry said...

Sorry, folks. Seen it. Enjoyed it. Liberties aside--and there were plenty, bearing in mind a good writer's/writers' sense of purpose and intended audience--it had the feel of watching a theater production, and I mean that in a good way. Subtext abounded in the performances (yes, CGI performances). Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, co-scribe of Pulp Fiction, worked closely with Robert Zemeckis during the entire process. Hollywood did not alienate or shoulder aside the writers in this case, and I wouldn't be surprised if it gets Oscar noms for Best Sound, Best Animated, and/or Best Adapted Screenplay.

Anonymous said...

Saw it in 3D. It's silly, but fun. Angelina isn't bad in 3D of course, but her monster has feet shaped like Manolo pumps. Pretty whacky.

Every gun owner should love 13th Warrior. It's terrific.

TBeck said...

Okay, I dragged my wife to see the film on Monday. She wanted to see The Bee Movie. I said that Seinfeld's voice makes my ears bleed and the film would be full of half-naked Vikings, just like the covers of her paperbacks.

Lucky for me, Beowulf spends a good part of the film nekkid, although carefully interposed obstacles keep the film at PG-13.

My thoughts; I liked it. The film was the first version I have encountered that gave Grendel's mother more than a guest appearance. I thought her method of acquiring treasure was novel, as well.

I liked the way that the producers portrayed the tenuous relationship between myth and truth and that they didn't hesitate to make the greatest hero of the age an egotistical jerk.