Not Another Beowulf

Beowulf (Johnny) charges through wind and freezing water to fight Grendel!

Having long been the kid who spends her days at the stable, I grew up reading as many non-fiction horse books as I could get my hands on.  In middle school, when English classes became more than the construction of scrapbooks and show-and-tell, I found myself bored with the “circle time” books we were forced to read.  When I graduated to classic literature like Emily Dickinson and the Canterbury Tales, I couldn’t help but feel the stifling structure of this cut-and-dry curriculum.  We never took the time to explore anything past the surface of these literary classics–the only discussion felt dry and pruned as if even the teacher cared nothing about our understanding.  Up until now, I had a very intolerant taste for literature.  It wasn’t until my junior year that a teacher named Mrs. Lewis (who everyone affectionately referred to as the Dragon Lady), really helped me to find my interest in literature.

When she announced that we’d be reading Beowulf during the year, the groans were entirely audible.  It was the same story we’d read two or three times in the past.  Little did we know Mrs. Lewis had a different plan for the story.  Instead of gathering around the table and listening to each person painfully stutter out a couple of paragraphs at a time, Mrs. Lewis told us that we were to each read and present our own interpretation of the tale.  The task seemed daunting at first, and the members of my group found ourselves lost from the start.  A visit to Mrs. Lewis was just the antidote.  Despite our grumbling and groaning, Mrs. Lewis suggested that we look a little deeper into the text–try to find connections that would interest any modern day reader.  Like myself, most members of my group were film majors at the time.  A spark from Mrs. Lewis sent us immediately to work on making a trailer for the story itself.

But the project didn’t go as easily as planned.  We each took portions of the tale, realizing on our own that we actually had to read and absorb.  But it was the reenactment that brought this story to life.  A suit of armor made entirely of tin foil coupled with a vicious golden retriever gave us our story.  And the trailer didn’t go without a few touches of our own, namely a little extra drama, romance, and of course, fire.  Lots of fire.  On the presentation day, the entire class was brimming with excitement over watching the trailer–apparently some of our classmates had seen us filming a scene in the freezing winter ocean and had become curious about the final product.  The point here isn’t that we’d made an embarrassing rendition to a classic, or even that Johnny–our very own Beowulf, was mocked up until the day he walked across the stage at graduation.  Instead, something magic happened that day.  Readers and viewers alike had become entranced by the magic and mystery that was already alive in the original Beowulf classic.  And that was the day I realized how much I had been missing.  Thanks to Mrs. Lewis and a crappy little digital recorder, I went on to become an English major in college.

And it turns out our trailer must have made an impact on someone — it wasn’t three months later that Hollywood announced its own production of a film honoring Beowulf.  Great minds think alike, I guess. 🙂

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