Clash of the Gods: Beowulf Evaluation
An excerpt from the Beowulf episode of Clash of the Gods is now up on YouTube, and I've embedded it below [UPDATE: it was pulled down for copyright violation. That was quick!]. Overall I'm reasonably happy with how it all came out. I didn't say anything obviously idiotic, which is a relief.
I was most pleased by the way the producers worked in archeological work and material culture into the discussion, even going so far as to bring in the battle between the Geats and the Swedes (though they cut my attempted explanation of who Eadgils was -- maybe too many names in too short a time) and showing the reconstruction of one of the halls at Lejre. Since I think it's really important for us to change our view of Beowulf as being entirely set in fantasy land, as opposed to the "named lands of the North," I'm very happy to think that a wide audience heard part of the case for this view.
But the handling of the story elements wasn't quite as good. There were a few modifications of the story for the sake of drama that I think went too far: In the poem Grendel's mother drags off one thane instead of slaying many; the sword Hrunting comes not for Beowulf's men but from Hrothgar's retainer, etc. I don't think there was any intention to distort the story, but instead a game of "telephone," where one person read a translation, wrote a synopsis, listened to an 'expert,' etc., and the events of the poem end up being changed, perhaps even unconsciously, so that they more easily fit a particular storyline. Beowulf isn't a perfect fit for contemporary storytelling (which is one reason I and many others love it so).
But overall it was nicely done, though a little bloody for my kids to watch (though I do like the fact that I'm doing background narration in a scene where there is decapitation). Also happy that the 'dragons come from people seeing dinosaur skeletons' theory was given some play. In the end, I'm not sure I buy the premise that Beowulf himself was likely to have been historical: he is the part of Beowulf who for me lives in fantasy land as much as the Grendels and the dragon. It's everything around him that lives in the partially remembered world of the North. Still, very fun. I'm now very interested to see how the Lord of the Rings episode turns out, and to see if they used my answer to the question "can you summarize The Silmarillion in two minutes?" (I am not making that up).