Posted By: VikingBoyBillyDate: 5/28/22 5:31 p.m.

I wrote this book review last year, and the thing keeping me from posting it is I wanted to draw custom forum graphics to make this special.

They turned out like this:

I also wanted to hack in Danheim's Floki's Last Journey playing in loop. The reason I've been sitting on it so long is, since I'm not Durandal_1707, being arsed to figure out how to do such sophisticated hacking demanded a mental and motivational effort I wasn't really up to. I thought I might be able to handle it after watching some javascript tutorials... then kept putting it off. When March rolled around I thought, maybe I'll do it for April Fool's day, since a hacked post would be in the holiday spirit, and I went to try to contact Durandal_1707 to beg his assistance with that, but this is the email address on his profile:


So getting him to write the hax javascript code by april fools wasn't happening. So I kept sitting on it and, well, I give up now. I'm just giving it to you like this. Maybe someone can figure it out and post a reply with the banner graphics and appropriate color scheme? If not, pretend this post looks cooler than the standard story forum html body.


I'm taking up Durandal's challenge. I got Maria Dahvana Headley's translation of Beowulf.

There is a long introduction from the author before we get to the story proper. She saw a painting of Grendel's mom when she was a kid, looking grotesque and badass, and fell in love with her. She was disappointed when she read it and found out she's not the main character of the story, or even the main villain, but the boss of the boring middle episode of a trilogy. To make a long intro short, there have been a lot of attempts at translating Beowulf from old English, which, itself, I suspect is a butchered transcription of a vocal norse saga. If it was ever written down as an edda, the world may never know. So she's saying she put a lot of work into putting her spin on it for a modern audience, without making grave sins against it's intended meaning.

We'll see about that.

But first, I watched the Beowulf Movie. Yes, that CGI one.

Spoilerific review: It's pretty awesome sauce and a legit telling on the big screen, until we get to act 2. Mama Grendel's appearance was kept a mystery and only vaguely hinted at, until Beowulf gets to her lair and the story twists in a different direction. She's some kind of beautiful temptress, and Beowulf falls for her promises of riches and power (and sexual temptation obviously). She won't attack Denmark so long as she can keep the golden horn or whatever it is. The thing some guy stole from the dragon that made it attack. It's also strongly implied that Grendel was Hrothgar's son, and the "dragon" is her child from Beowulf. The pieces of this story have been taken apart and put back together to form this new narrative.

What were they trying to do here, make Beowulf a flawed character, and give mama grendel more prominence? This is the most sexist and clichéd way they could have gone about that. I'm sure M.D. Headly was pissed they changed the monstrous character she liked into another evil temptress that's been done a million times before. And I never thought of Beowulf as needing more character flaws, and not in this way. But the movie was so enjoyable I didn't even care.

So without further ado, let's get to the story proper.

Lines 1-611: As much as I wanted to go into this being a big contrarian sourpuss with a negativity bias and a confirmation bias, I have to admit, this is the horrible blight on humanity that I feared. It's pretty good. And what I mean by that is this: it's good, because it's Beowulf. MDH didn't mutate it into an abomination of pop culture references. It's just another translation of Beowulf, and I can tell that what modern spin she tried to put on it was in the service of communicating the spirit of the story she was translating, not to turn it into something that it is not. The modern spin includes a few f-bombs and four-letter words thrown around casually, and egregious repetition of the word "bro." Even though I'm a huge prude and I very much want to argue that Beowulf and all viking poetry should be faggy and pretentious, I'm not bothered by it. I'm finding that the movie is more offensive than this book is! But I'm not finished yet.

612 — 626: I had high faith I'd leave this thread with a "tl;dr: it's alright," but alas, I found a line of cringe. And I quote: No, no. My word isn't good enough. I'm scanning this shit so nobody will say "pics bro or it didn't happen."

Up to this point, the language in this translation felt timeless, but this is the first instance of a dated one liner. You might argue that all the references to christianity were dated to the time this was written in Old English. But Hashtag: Blessed? No sir, I don't like it.

627 - 1202: Not much to mention here, except a flaming sword and the word Brisings. Don't get the reference? *cough, cough, brisingr*. If you still don't get it, take the word Dragon and replace the D with the next letter in the alphabet. Yeah, I went there. I had to point it out. But on the other hand, I can think of the Quietus from Hexen as a nod to this old english norse poem. Oh, and Hrothgar sleeps in a second hall full of maids every night and gets up and walks over to the mead hall every day. I used to think the king, his queen, his thralls, and his, uh, harem all slept, drank, and partied in one hall.

Line 1210: MDH calls viking treasure bling. Again, I quote Mr. Horse: No sir, I don't like it.

On page 64 there's a qualifying statement at the part where Unferth gives Beowulf his sword.

"Note: [...]" (Yes, it starts with the word Note and the colon.)

It seems like this should be a paranthetical statement or one of those notes at the bottom of the page with an asterix, but it's part of the text. It's perfectly readable, but it sticks out because I've been conditioned to those things being asides that you mentally separate from the body of the text.

Then the fight with Beowulf and Grendel's mom happens. It's written in MDH's dudebro style, but it's what's supposed to happen. One point to MDH. Zero points for the movie.

2312-2313 — "The dragon swooped low and spat flame, desroying both manor and hovel, scrawling red RSVPs in the sky." Ugh.

And now, to whoever did the screenwriting and directing of the Beowulf movie, I urge you to read this:

2369-2390 — "Hygd tried to quicken him with the throne, offering him gold, gemstones, a potent position, a life less lonely. Her own sons she didn't trust to govern, to keep borders trussed against deploying hordes, now his daddy was dead. She couldn't convince Beowulf to step over Heardred, nor consent to come to her bed, but instead he offered his counsel to the boy-king, until he was man enough to rule the Weder-Geats himself.
Soon thereafter, exiles appeared over the salt-highway, Ohthere's sons, who'd raised a coup against their old wave-king, Onela. He was the ruler of the Scylfings, had given gold from his kingdom seat, was master of their mead-hall. Heedless, Heardred received the refugees, and traded his life for it, his reception paid in regrets. A fatal flash of Onela's sword, and Hygelac's line was ended. The Swede-king, satisfied, set off to the briny boulevard, and Beowulf, bereaved, ascended the Geat-throne, in grief, never surrendering his reluctance to become the ruler. That was a good king."

This isn't an addition by MDH. That's canon. And this is what's wrong with the movie. The change they made to the plot goes completely against his character. Sure, he's mostly a blank slate hero, but I remember in other translations I read they made a point of him not having any heirs. I read him as an asexual character; and this affirms he would never do what he did in that movie. He took that sword in the lair and cut her down like the monster she is.

2402 — "By then he found the smoking gun, the embezzlement that'd stoked the dragon's rage." This is referring to that cup that was stolen from the dragon's lair. MDH is using the concept of a Chekhov's gun as a metaphor here, which is something only literary nerds (or everyone on the internet) would get. But it's also a weird choice of metaphor because the thing is a literal checkhov's-gun plot device (but not a literal gun).

3180-3182 — "Here he is now! Here our best boy lies! He rode hard! He stayed thirsty? He was the man! He was the man."

He sure was.

Conclusion: I went into this expecting to be mostly negative, but I ended up ranting about the CGI movie adaptation than MDH's effort. She may be writing it in her own words, but it's still Beowulf, with a new style. And now I'm interested in translations of Beowulf as a genre. It's kind of like those animation collab videos, where a bunch of artists take the audio of a cartoon and draw all the scenes in a bunch of different art styles. The Beowulf translators were way ahead of the curve on that trend.

And Pfh*** hollywood, disney, the brothers grimm, illumination, or whoever you want to blame for taking classic stories and feeding tainted versions of them to mainstream audiences.

PS: Why did the forum's font change?

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BeowulfVikingBoyBilly 5/28/22 5:31 p.m.
     CorrectionVikingBoyBilly 5/28/22 6:01 p.m.

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