The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

24 February 2008

Backstage at the Grendel Opry

Ken Tucker reviews the Director's Cut DVD of Beowulf in Entertainment Weekly (#980, 2/29/08), and finds himself lecturing a filmmaker:

[Director Robert] Zemeckis says in a making-of that this film has "nothing to do with the Beowulf you were forced to read in junior high — it's all about eating, drinking, killing, and fornicating." To which I can only respond, Oh, you poor deluded baby boomer: Bob, do you think young people in 2008 have an Old English epic poem on the syllabus? American literacy is lucky if junior high schoolers get a stray Hemingway short story into their diet of crappy young-adult novels.

Zemeckis is fifty-five, which is close to my age. I read Beowulf in eighth grade. To my knowledge, neither of my children have seen it. The poem, I mean.

Posted at 4:16 PM to Almost Yogurt

I was in eighth grade I don't remember reading anything. I mean, that was assigned for class. Certainly not Beowulf.

I did read Dante's "Inferno" on my own - the previous year. I thought it was good for me to read "difficult" works. I was a terrible pedant even as a pre-teen.

I've not read Beowulf to this day, but I do have that new-ish translation (Heaney). It sits on my shelf and taunts me.

Posted by: fillyjonk at 6:35 PM on 24 February 2008

I'm 46 -- I was in eighth grade in 1976. No Beowulf here.

In fact, I couldn't tell you for sure if we were assigned any required reading when I was in eighth grade. The assigned books I remember were in high school.

Maybe if I hadn't spent what today would be called my "middle school years" in public instead of Catholic school, I might have had to slog through Beowulf. As it was, in high school I was given plenty of books I didn't bother to finish reading.

Posted by: McGehee at 7:27 PM on 24 February 2008

Maybe it depends on the school. I didn't read Beowulf in eighth grade, but I did read it in twelfth. One of my senior projects was on Beowulf--I even dressed up as Grendel and everything. Eighth grade in the mid-1990s was filled with crappy Lois Duncan novels. "Serious literature" was only taught at the high school level, unless you were in the gifted classes. (I wasn't since people just assumed I wasn't very bright because I didn't talk much.)

Posted by: sya at 8:52 PM on 24 February 2008

I think we touched on _Beowulf_ somewhere around the eighth grade, I don't remember exactly. The one I -hated- was _Canterbury Tales_.

Posted by: unimpressed at 11:00 PM on 24 February 2008

I'm pretty sure our daughter has seen it, in the "see that book sitting over there on the shelf" sense. Don't know if she's read it, though. Certainly not as a result of junior high English classes. I suspect her greatest exposure to the story is via a couple of Xena episodes.

Another data point: in my youth, we did Beowulf in 10th or 11th grade.

Posted by: David Fleck at 6:51 AM on 25 February 2008

I'm 23, and to this date, I've been required to read Beowulf 3 times -- once in middle school, once in high school, and the final time in a college mythology class.

Posted by: Heather D at 10:42 AM on 25 February 2008