I will be presenting at Kalamazoo (International Medieval Congress) on “Beowulf in the 21st Century.”
The following is an email about my presentation, including the main point of my argument.
Reasonably accurate revenants indicate a frame of reference, a cultural literacy, which includes Beowulf. These lend credence to Fradenburg’s argument that there is a “vast popular knowledge” of medieval texts and D’Arcens’ argument that there is a resurgence in the popularity of medieval history and literature.
Thus I would argue that the audience for science fiction and fantasy novels can be considered very aware, the audience of movies are less aware, and video game audiences are basically unaware of the text, except perhaps for the name. (The video game references are unrelated to those characters’ experiences in the original text.) The graphic novels, on the other hand, are increasing the reader’s knowledge of the text, since they follow fairly closely the work, but probably presuppose little exposure to the text, since otherwise the readers would be bored. The board games argue for a familiarity with in one case the movie only and in the other the poem.
I would try to interview the designer of the board games in order to determine familiarity with the Old English text prior to the work on the games and to see the expectations regarding the audiences. I think I could probably also interview the graphic novelist. The other authors have a strong fan base and probably are less available for interviews.
Patricia Briggs Cry Wolf
Eric Flint and David Weber Torch of Freedom
Larry Niven, Steven Barnes, and Jerry Pournelle Beowulf’s Children
Christopher Stasheff’s The Oathbound Wizard
Beowulf & Grendel (movie 2005)
Beowulf (movie 2007)
Grendel (movie 2007)
Beowulf: The Compilation (graphic novel)
Final Fantasy (video game)
Devil May Cry (video game)
Beowulf: The Game (video game)
Beowulf: The Legend (board game)
Beowulf: The Movie (board game)
If, in the interest of time, I had to limit the texts, I would delete the video and board games first, or at least refer to them only at the same level of depth (or close to it) that I included in the proposal.
If I had more time, I might refer to those works which are reacquainting a new generation with the text, such as Rumford’s Beowulf and Johns’ The Saga of Beowulf or Kiernan’s Beowulf or Godwin’s The Tower of Beowulf or Crownover’s Wealtheow: Her Telling of Beowulf. These are works which can afford to presuppose no previous exposure to the text and use their literature to introduce it to the audience.
If you would prefer one version over the other (leave out video and board, add introductions), I would be happy to do that as well.
Basically I think that academics tend to assume that students, if they were introduced to Beowulf at all, met the story in our classrooms or perhaps in a high school English course. I believe that the plethora of literature referring to and retelling the story argues that this is not the case.
I am going to take the approach of looking at works which are introducing Beowulf to audiences who might not have a familiarity with it from school, because I am starting to wonder if anyone actually remembers they read this thing, even if they did.
The image is of a Sutton Hoo helmet.