Wednesday morning, I heard from BDT. He had just finished reading Beowulf with his sixth grade class, and, he said, the kids really liked it. I found this very interesting because just the night before I'd had a revelation about Beowulf while brushing my teeth.
Okay, here is the basic Beowulf story. Beowulf, while at the height of his strength and power, kills a couple of monsters and saves the day for Hrothgar, the king of a foreign country. Then Beowulf goes home where he is a king to his own people. Time passes. A new monster or dragon or something comes and poses a threat to Beowulf's kingdom. The old hero battles the monster to save his people. But not being at the height of his strength and power, he doesn't survive the experience.
I think this story basically tells the story of human life. We make our greatest achievements while at our physical and mental peak. Then time passes, we grow old, and can't do what we were able to do before. Or, at least, not as well. The people who created and first told Beowulf were expressing this fact of life that no one can get past. The story has endured, not because people loved it but because they recognized that it truly was making a statement about the human condition.
Not exactly a story I would have thought sixth graders would appreciate, though. It's not a story I would think teenagers would care for much, either, but there were a number of them in the theater this afternoon for the showing of the new Beowulf movie. I'm guessing they liked it well enough because the movie has been juiced up quite a bit with sex. In it, Grendel's Mom is a hotty who seduces men, who are then corrupt and lost because they did the deed with her. They also provide her with sons who years later seek their fathers out and wreak havoc upon them.
True, the movie version has a peppier story line than the true Beowulf. It also has a story that's easier to take. We don't want to believe that monsters will just randomly attack people. Random things could happen to us, too, after all. We want to believe that victims do something to bring their fates upon themselves. Beowulf didn't just grow older and weaker the way we all will. He got what was coming to him because of what he did with the Angelina Jolie cartoon.
Actually, that storyline probably is better for kids. There's a moral there for them. With the true Beowulf they're just told a fact of life. With the movie, they're told not to have sex with beautiful monster women who live in caves.
It is good advice.