There are two things I always think about when I think about the tale of Beowulf. The first is the connection the story has to religion, specifically monotheistic religion. At the time the story was written polytheism was still relatively common in Northern Europe. Even though it is a very minor part of the original text, I believe the slight mention of Christianity is a significant one because the story stems out of a time period where northern Europeans were determining their fate and considering carefully what was going on to their geographical south. Indeed. Odin and Thor and Loki were obviously not enough as the roar of the Roman + Christian empire(s) just below them glowed large and all-powerful.
In the original Beowulf text the Christian religion is mentioned during a debate with the King of the Danes that maybe they should hire the Romans–as in the Christ believers–instead of Beowulf to help them fight Grendel. It is because of that question I’ve always believed that Grendel is not an individual but instead a group or a tribe. Btw, the same applies to Beowulf. In other words, although the story can be about an individual or a few individuals and the heroism that entails–as it’s been interpreted through out the centuries–I believe that the story is actually about tribes that were in a perpetual state of war not only about power and possessions but also beliefs, dogma and Gods. So what were they fighting over?
The second thing I think about is the role of matriarchy in society (tribes) and how rule by the feminine has pretty much been annihilated–even to this day. That is, Grendel and Grendel’s mother represented a tribe(s) where matriarchy ruled. Such rule was unacceptable to the King of the Danes and Beowulf–i.e. two macho-tribes that teamed up. Hence, the Roman Christ God, its patriarchy, its dogma, its weapons and techniques of war, was an acceptable alternative for the macho-pigs in their quest to take over (everything). At the least, this other form of religion put the women-folk in their place. Ultimately, the macho-pigs, embodied in the macho Beowulf, fulfilled this fledgling dogmatic image and, at least in the short term, saved the King of the Danes by defeating–annihilating–not only rival tribes but the rivalry of matriarchy itself. This, in-turn, was the final straw that lead to the Christianisation of Northern Europe that The Universal Church (that would eventually become The Catholic Church) up to that point had been unable to tame. So was Beowulf the north’s first sacrificed saviour? But on that note, I digress.
So much for worst-writer’s interpretation of the Poem of Everything. Instead, dear worst-reader, let’s focus on someone else’s interpretation of Beowulf. Someone who I think has nailed it. I just finished The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley. Talk about interpretation, baby! And not only can this chick fcuking write–she has created a glorious text to read–and she’s even come up with a pretty good interpretation of Beowulf. But only pretty good!
Set in the modern suburban-hell of my beloved & missed & war-torn #Americant, Headley has kinda done a reverse and inverse of Beowulf. Her interpretation is not hero centric but instead heroine centric. By turning the story inside-out and telling it through the point of view of the feminine, who must cope with the fcuked-up world created and facilitated by male driven war, if not penis-driven suburbia, she has masterfully concocted a story of the trials, pains and tribulations of a once great nation run amok–and what that’s done to the chicks. Even though I don’t actually like her feminising my favourite man-cave text–and I’m especially not sure if I would like it if I wasn’t already familiar with the original–she writes with such lyrical precision and word-beauty that I’m ready to give one of her other books a go. Yeah, baby. Queen of Kings is next?
The Mere Wife deserves every bit of praise it gets. In fact, I’m gonna have to search the #interwebnets for whether or not anyone doesn’t like what Headley has done with Beowulf. And if/when I find someone who doesn’t like it, I’m gonna hunt them down and stick a big fcuking knife in their neck and drink their blood till the roar of Beowulf booms out of me. Argh!
-Rant (and read) on.