Friday, August 19, 2005

I'm "an overly literal twit"

So says the person who equated Gaiman/Avary/Zemeckis making Beowulf into a movie to spitting on one's grandmother. I responded to that comparison in much the same way I do in the entry below, and the response was this:
John, you are an overly literal twit. You will have a long and honored career as a teacher of English Literature!

(God, save us from over-educated fools! Thank you.)

One would expect better from an academic discussion on the appropriateness or lack thereof of adapting, rewriting, and/or translating a poem which was part of oral tradition, a tradition, I might add, that by definition engages in adaptation, re-"writing," and translation. And baring any intellectually informed response seeking to further the discussion, one would at least expect a ruder insult. I'm disappointed on both counts.

The discussion itself just gets weirder as it progresses. The movie -- a movie which hasn't even begun filming -- is crap not because anyone who is calling it crap knows anything about the movie other than which actors are playing which parts, but because Beowulf is a sacred text that can't be made into a movie. Of course, most are denying holding this position. Instead, they explain how the movie has created unnecessary back-story (of course, we don't know this because the movie hasn't been made and we haven't seen the script), how it has bastardized the poem to the point of committing violence to the text (again, while this is forcefully asserted, it is pure conjecture with no factual support), how the "dumb masses" -- yes, those words were used -- will latch on to these films, this "anti-Beowulf," and how we Beowulf scholars will become critically voiceless just as all "discerning" Lord of the Rings readers have become critically voiceless in this post-Peter Jackson era.

*blinks* Huh?

As one who has been formally studying The Lord of the Rings as an academic since 1995 and as one who has taught The Lord of the Rings and other Tolkien works on and off since 1997, I'm pretty sure the movies haven't made me, or any Tolkienist, voiceless, critically or otherwise. In fact, based on the number of books about Tolkien which have come out since 2001, let alone other things such as the launch of The Tolkien Studies journal, National Geographic's documentary and Web site (plus all the other documentaries in which Tolkien scholars are interviewed, least of not which are the LotR DVDs themselves), all the public lectures Tolkien scholars gave over the last five years (my dissertation director, Tom Shippey was regularly traveling to give lectures on Tolkien for quite some time), the in-progress Tolkien encyclopedia being edited by Michael Drout, the increase in Tolkien courses being taught in colleges and universities, all the media interviews Tolkien scholars gave -- hell, I was interviewed by the staff of an Oregon university student newspaper after the first movie came out because they found my 2001 Tolkien syllabus online. And I'm regularly pumped for information about and my opinions of Tolkien, the books, and the movies when people learn that I've been teaching and studying Tolkien for years and that Tom Shippey, author of The Road to Middle-earth and J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, consultant to the Jackson movies, and one of the talking heads on the DVDs, is my dissertation director. The Lord of the Rings movies have vastly increased both the platform from which Tolkienists may speak and the audience interested in hearing what we have to say. They have in no way made us critically voiceless.

It's madness, all this outrage over movies being made of literary texts. Maybe it's the full moon?

Or maybe I'm making too much of the whole thing. I am, after all, an overly literal twit.

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At 7:55 PM, Blogger lisa schamess said...

Hey! I like it. Next time you're in a scholarly debate that makes you want to tear your hair out (or how about just a tenure meeting?), you can turn to your colleague and say, "James/Jane, you overly literal twit."

I think you're onto something here.

At 7:31 PM, Blogger Laurie said...

I found your two Beowulf posts from a LJ link from a link in Neil Gaiman's journal... just so you know.

You sound like the kind of grad student/future English professor I hope to become. And if I were to call you an overly literal twit, I'd mean it as a compliment.


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