Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Beowulf v. Beowulf

I speak not of the celebrated legal precedent but of the curious disjunction between the film (this one) and the book (this translation). These are barely recognizable as the same story.

Yes, I've only recently gotten around to finally reading Beowulf as opposed to commentaries on Beowulf, excerpts from Beowulf, and badly-pronounced and even more badly understood readings from the original Old English text. Go ahead, read these lines and make sense of them if you can:

leoman to leohte landbuendum
ond gefrætwade foldan sceatas
leomum ond leafum, lif eac gesceop
cynna gehwylcum þara ðe cwice hwyrfaþ.
Swa ða drihtguman dreamum lifdon
Did you read it out loud!!?!?! Did you pronounce every letter phonetically?!!?! Yea, me too. Every person who insists on the value of reading the original insists on the value of reading it out loud and on pronouncing every letter phonetically.

Maybe I should turn to a verse translation before drawing any final conclusions? This one seems to be well-regarded.

Notwithstanding how little they had in common, I enjoyed both the book and the film -- yes, even that film, for all its glaring flaws, beginning with the distracting visual presentation where every character has a CGI overlay. If CGI cannot save a horrendous film, surely it can't doom a salvageable one. Right?

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