Monday, December 19, 2011

Beowulf Review (Butcher, Rasmussen, Pitaktong)

Seth Butcher, Matthew Rasmussen, Areen Pitaktong

Beowulf Review

Hinds: Another Malicious Christian Monk

Gareth Hinds’ graphic novel adaptation of the legendary story of Beowulf strives to both remain faithful to the heroic spirit of the original, while adding both greater depth and excitement through its visuals. In many ways, this adaptation succeeds, but the illustrations are often incorrect or seem out of place, distracting from the story of Beowulf.
Beowulf the character towers over his fellow men, but is no match in size for the horrific Grendel. In order to show how Beowulf manages to defeat his massive adversary, Hinds draws on his own personal knowledge of martial arts. Hinds depicts Beowulf employing various arm bars and throws. These moves come from martial arts traditions that would not have been known in Northern Europe in the time of the tale. Hinds turns Beowulf contest of sheer strength with Grendel into one where he uses skill to defeat his enemy, changing the emphasis of Beowulf’s talents from raw, heroic strength into skills perfected through practice.
The original story of Beowulf was an older, pagan tale transcribed by a Christian monk. The monk’s Christianity warped the story, and Hinds adds even more references to it, further distancing the adaptation from the original story. For instance, in book two, Beowulf emerges from the lake after defeating Grendel’s mother, holding a sword with an destroyed blade over his head like a crucifix, with light illuminating the Christian symbol. Still, Hinds adds a call back to the bloody, non-Christian origin of the story: in the spread, Beowulf also clutches Grendel’s mother’s severed head in his teeth by its hair.
The graphic novel rendition of the great epic offers little new content besides pretty pictures. Given that the entirety of the text was already prepared for Hinds, his primary and only task was to illustrate the book and hopefully add in accurate details overlooked in the text. Instead, he deepens the rift between the original tale and the modern adaptation by driving more inappropriate Christian icons into a pagan work. Hinds makes a few decent additions, such as constellations seen in every night sky panel, which demonstrate the importance of astrology to the Danes, who could not otherwise sail, but preferred to add content that is untrue to the original tale.
The clothing style illustrated in Hind’s rendition of Beowulf is one key example of an area that Hinds could have incorporated a great deal of detail, but chose not to. While the use of brooches and tunic-style clothing is appropriate for medieval Geatland, the similarities between the graphic novel and historical fact are limited to these few instances. Among the important articles of clothing for Danes would be leather belts, fur hats that in no way involved horns, and Amber, which was considered to be the most precious item, for clothing, medicine, or even magic, during the age. While Hinds does not use any blatantly wrong pieces of clothing besides the horned helmets, his illustrations could have incorporated significantly more zeitgeist appropriate content.
Finally, the text that Hinds uses is a rework of one of the two original Beowulf texts to ever be recovered, but the voice in which the story is told is drastically different than any translation of the original text, which gives Beowulf a completely new persona. In the original Beowulf text, the protagonist is responsible for a majority of the narration. Beowulf the character frequently boosts about his achievements and seems to ooze confidence. Hinds’ Beowulf does not exhibit nearly the quality of the original Beowulf’s persona. When we are introduced to Beowulf in the graphic novel, we are introduced to a tall Nord with little to say. The hero only speaks when discussing his intentions which, due to the medium, could not be effectively communicated. The primary reason for Beowulf’s journey is for self-glorification, which Hinds seems to have overlooked. Beowulf essentially became a silent, noble hero, which is absurd given the motivations and goals that are so clearly displayed in the original text.
Hinds did not add a great deal of detail to Beowulf through his graphic novel adaptation, and instead preferred to add ridiculous content that is not plausible nor realistic. While graphic novels add the option to illustrate a story and show detail too extraneous for text, Hinds did not add any relevant detail, and instead chose to restrain the reader’s imagery of Beowulf to his own interpretation as opposed to adding in relevant detail that could add to the epic. Just like how a Christian monk was the first to record the tale of Beowulf and in doing so infused the story with large amounts of Christian symbolism, Hinds chose to add inappropriate content such as horned helmets and martial arts into an otherwise great piece of literature.

1 comment:

Michael Hancock said...

Your review raises a number of objections to Hinds' adaptation in terms of fidelity to its source material and ancient Scandinavian culture. Your likening of Hinds to the original Beowulf poet is intriguing, showing that the tale continues to be transformed in its retelling. Your claim about Hinds' anachronisms seems valid.

I'm not sure I follow your point about Hinds' choice of texts; the poem is known from only one (partial) surviving copy. Are you talking about translations? Certainly, Hinds' Beowulf is not in all ways the hero of the original. To give some credit to Hinds, identify more of the "decent additions" his version makes. I'll chalk up the lack of paragraphing in your post to formatting issues.