I like Tolkien and I like Anglo-Saxon poetry. So, when a friend sent me a link to a New Yorker piece by dance critic Joan Acocello, titled “Slaying Monsters,” I clicked.
Then I had to scrape the stupid from my retinas.
Selected quotes from this farrago and my notes on them follow:
On Beowulf’s lack of a “real psychology”: “Unlike Anna Karenina or Huckleberry Finn, [Beowulf] is not a filter, a point of view, standing between us and his world.” Maybe because Beowulf is NOT A FUCKING 19th CENTURY NOVEL!!
On Grendel’s piteousness: “Tolkien describes how, after the fight with Beowulf, Grendel, ‘sick at heart,’ dragged himself home, ‘bleeding out his life.’” Because Tolkien meant the passage to…oh, wait, he only translated it.
On Grendel’s childlike nature: “One reason Grendel seems childlike is that he has a mother.” Because everyone with a mother is childlike. Like George Clooney, and Hitler.
On the battle between Beowulf and Grendel’s mother: “It also shows a man killing a woman.” That fucking sexist pig, Beowulf, and his misogynist collaborator, Tolkien!!
On the poem’s treatment of time: “As the time planes collide, spoilers proliferate.” Which must have really affected the poem’s box-office receipts.
On Anglo-Saxon: “If you don’t know German, it doesn’t sound like anything at all.” Your knowledge of Dutch won’t help you, either, you fools! And don’t even talk to me about Frisian!
On the duties of being a professor: “That is why Tolkien had a job: at Oxford, for decades, he taught the first half of ‘Beowulf.’” Wanted: professor of Anglo-Saxon. Must know first half of English epic, be comfortable wearing burnt cotton.
On Heaney’s translation compared to Tolkien’s: “Heaney, to his credit, took responsibility for this poem, and turned it into something that regular people would want to read, and enjoy.” Irregular people read something else while trying to coax a bowel movement.
On Tolkien’s interest in the poem: “Like Beowulf, Tolkien was an orphan.” After the age of 12; before that he was only half-an-orphan, or an orphan-let.