Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Gaiman and the Golden Grundwyrgenne

It has been too long, but alas, my brain cells had run dry and my spirit was broken from the cataclysm known as the IRC, most famously depicted in Albrecht Dürer's The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. 

Saying that, it hasn't been all bad, as I got to speak at the EMICS Stories and Storytelling in the Medieval World in University College London last April, where I spoke about Zemeckis's -let's be honest - god-awful adaptation of Beowulf, which this post is going to be about.

Despite the film's absolute over-indulgence in CGI, cringe-worthy quotes, and frat-boy-inspired antics, it must be said, the 2007 adaptation is one of the most engaged with the actual poem, and with scholarship surrounding the poem. This can't be too surprising, seen as the film's script was actually written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary. Neil Gaiman is a pretty adored author who obviously goes to a shitload of effort when researching his work (as we can see with American Gods) and he also has written two short adaptations of Beowulf  (Bay Wolf and The Monarch of the Glen which can be found in Fragile Things and Smoke and Mirrors). Roger Avary then, co-wrote the screenplay of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs and the screenplay for that mad bastard, Bret Easton Ellis's The Rules of Attraction - an impressive enough CV.

So it's safe enough to say the film's storyline was in good hands. Minus the terrible dialogue which included Hrothgar naming Unferth as "violator of virgins" and the mind-numbing song that would appeal to teenage boys and (hopefully) nobody else.

The most obvious thing that stands out in this Beowulf when comparing it to the Anglo-Saxon poem, is the sex. Especially the Grendel's mother sex. And the fact that she's a naked, high-heel-footed, golden, reptile (but sexy reptile) thing. Pretty much along the same lines as Graham Baker's less well-known 1999 adaptation, which was so bad that it was sort of okay (let's not get ahead of ourselves).

Despite this being an extremely sexualised view of Grendel's mother, and one which can be described as a great example of what Anita Sarkeesian calls the "Evil Demon Seductress" (think Megan Fox in Jennifer's Body, or Scarlett Johannsson in Under the Skin, or that roboty wan in one of the Transformers films - a trope which generally allows audiences to sexualise and demonise women at the same time), there is the possibility of there being a deeper meaning to this portrayal (not that the young men this film was obviously targeting gave even one solitary crap!).

As with most adaptations, it says something about its own time, the 21st century - a time where the main concerns are not anything like those of the Anglo-Saxon's, but circulate more around the self, with anxieties about sexuality and masculinity. Zemeckis's film could have left out the sexual element included, but heroes always get the girl (even if she's not really a girl, as in this case), and if Beowulf wasn't seduced by naked-golden-Ridley-Scott-Alien-Angelina, then there would be no doubt people would think, "what a fag, like, I'd totally nail her". Anxieties about homosexuality still exist, and the film-makers do not want to put Beowulf's sexuality into question. And if there's anything we can learn from films, it's morals (the couple always die first in the horror film, guys, so ABSTAIN. And the black guy always dies too...so...don't be black?). And because we live in a society where people are still shit-scared of sexually- and otherwisely powerful women, those women must be demonised, while the chaste Wealhtheow's of the world are revered.

But, there is a faint glimmer of hope. There lies the possibility that Jane Chance's article "The Structural Unity of Beowulf: the Problem of Grendel's Mother" had somewhat of an influence - in this article, Chance argues that there exist sexual undertones in the scene of Beowulf and GM's battle, with each other fighting for a dominant position astride the other and the ripping of chain mail and trying to penetrate each other with daggers and rolling about and, god, I gotta open a window. Seriously though, it's possible.
Of more importance is the sword, which in the poem, melts when Beowulf decapitates Grendel's corpse, but in the film, melts ("into gory icicles") when Grendel's mother caresses it, in the most obvious sexual innuendo in film history. And the poem itself seems to treat the giant's sword in the same way - it is described as being "a blade that boded well . . . an ideal weapon, one that any warrior would envy, but so huge and heavy of itself on Beowulf could wield it in battle" (from Heaney's translation). Like, seriously.

Maybe a stronger argument for the depiction of GM as a golden sex beast, is because of its (possible) influence by the work of Frank Battaglia, which seeks to view Grendel's mother as an ancient earth goddess, Gefjon (related perhaps to Freyja and Nerthus). Grendel's mother does look a bit more like a goddess than a monster (or normal woman as I like to argue!), right? And besides, in Caitlin Kiernan's novelization of the film, she mentions Nerthus, and other Germanic and Norse gods, for whom GM has been presumed to be. Despite appearing to be a rather obscure source of inspiration for a film, it seems to fit pretty well. I think. Whatever.

So, although at first the portrayal of GM is kind of ridiculous, and kind of roll-eyes worthy at first, it appears that some thought did actually go into her appearance, besides whatever would make the most money (although I'm sure this was priority!). It goes to show that some of these films can't be presumed to be uneducated pieces of garbage (most anyway!), and they are interesting to study in relation to their engagement with the poem. Basically, every adaptation has something to offer, whether in how it uses the poem to express its own concerns, and how it chooses to engage with the poem and with scholarship.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Fridaye funne

Hit is Frigedæg, se dæg Frigge.

It's a slow abstract-writing and IRC day. But if things go well, I will be presenting at a conference soon, and if things go really well, my PhD will be funded (but there's less chance of that happening than if someone found out the exact date of Beowulf's composition.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. So begins and ends the masterpiece that is The Dark Tower

(I know this is completely irrelevant, but whatevuh)

Last night I finally finished Book VII of the series, after beginning two years ago. I will admit that this is nothing compared to the people who have stuck with it from the very beginning, when Part I: The Gunslinger was released in 1982 (or when the first part of this book was published in 1978 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Ficiton): In a way I'm quite relieved that I did not have to wait the 20 years it took King to finally complete it! I'm not including The Wind Through the Keyhole here - I have yet to read this, which is some consolation to me. 

Michael Whelan

Stephen King was one of my favourite childhood authors - when I was about twelve, I picked up The Green Mile, I think it was, and then went on a spree, picking up whatever King book I could find - and luckily for me, every god-damn newsagent, even grocery shops out in the shticks, had a bloody Stephen King novel. So I flew through The Shining, Misery, Black House, Carrie (still one of my favourite novels and films), Salem's Lot, along with numerous others. And then all of a sudden, I just stopped reading them. And then two years ago, I looked up Stephen King on Goodreads and went through the reviews of his books, and found that The Dark Tower got amazing reviews, so I said, sure feck it anyway, and went ahead and bought The Gunslinger

And I must say - this is probably my favourite series that I've read...maybe ever. That doesn't say much when I haven't read many series, but, the story is one of the best I've ever read. I can say that I've never gotten so attached to fictional characters as I did with this. I honestly thought by the end of it I was falling in love with Roland Deschain of Gilead. And I will admit, that in the final book, I cried numerous times - and I do not cry from books. In fact the last time I cried from reading a book is either when Dumbledore died in the Harry Potter series, or maybe even when I was in fourth class of primary school and that damned horse, Pegasus, died in Lauren Brooke's series Heartland (in the third book if I remember correctly!). But The Dark Tower made me cry. Stephen King made me cry and fall in love with his characters. And because of this book especially, I will defend him until the end of time, and rebuke any muhfah' that says he writes unworthy lowbrow crap. I'll go Detta Walker on their ass. 

Michael Whelan

One thing King has received some criticism for, is the ending of this series. But...I think it ended quite perfectly really. Y'know, after all, ka is a wheel. And as King says in the final chapter, the story is about the journey, about Roland's quest for the tower, and if we are here just for the ending, then all you have to do is read the last few pages. And I do love how he gives us the choice, one may call it, of putting down the book and not finding out. But like Roland, we can't stop ourselves. I had no idea how this was going to end, and I certainly did not expect how it did end up, but damn, it really makes me want to re-read the series again! And maybe one day I will. Because it was actually heartbreaking saying goodbye to it, to Roland and Jake and Eddie and Susannah and Oy.

May I add that Susannah Dean is one badass female character. One who actually has depth, which I think many female fantasy characters lack.

And another thing - the references to other books and films. So many of King's other works tie into The Dark Tower, and so many of the characters from other books appear in it. Like Pere Callahan from Salem's Lot, and Dandelo, who is of the same species as Pennywise from It. 
And as well as that, the references to Harry Potter - I loved these bits. 

There have been talks (for a looong time) about turning this into a number of films, but it keeps seeming to fall through. But it better happen - because Russell Crowe is apparently in talks to play Roland, and I think he would be perfect. I love Roland and I love Russell Crowe. So, happen already!

And for those of you who haven't read the series, read it. And for those of you I have forced to start it and ye gave up, then screw you. 

Long days and pleasant nights, stranger
There are other worlds than these