Monday, April 23, 2007

Medieval StoryTelling and Modern Appropriation

I'm working on some odd thoughts that are crashing in my head as disparate projects are cross-pollinating each other.

One of the things that I'm trying to articulate is that it strikes me that much criticism of Hollywood these days regarding taking books and adapting as movies is somewhat misguided on the part of us medievalists. I have in mind specifically attempts to film Beowulf for example, or even the Tolkien movies....

If I can try and boil down the thought: In medieval literature we are accustomed to noting that stories live. They have their own life. Chaucer tells a version of an older story that many other tale tellers have told, such as the Fall of Troy in Troilus and Criseide, Shakespeare takes a story from Saxo Grammaticus and turns it into Hamlet and so on. Peter Jackson made LoTR into a movie, it isn't the same as Tolkien's LoTR. Seamus Heaney translated Beowulf and as any Anglo-Saxonist will tell you it is Heaneywulf, not Beowulf.

So what I'm saying is this: it seems to me that the medieval method of story telling: taking a preexisting tale and reshaping it in a new context/genre/medium is still with us and we can trace it from the medieval period through Shakespeare and Marlowe, through Chapman's Homer, Pope's Iliad, Dryden's Aeneid, Joyce's Ulysses right up to the present with Jackson's LoTR. By reshaping the story, these adapters and retellers have made a new work of art, related to what was previously there, but sufficiently different as to stand on its own as an independent work. So when these Beowulf movies come along, and we groan at the fact that it isn't our Beowulf, perhaps we should groan less, and listen to the new story and judge it on those terms.

Still working on this, or wondering if it is worth working on.....

1 comment:

Derek the ├ćnglican said...

But there is a notion of continuity with the original that needs to be included as well. What is the requirement of fidelity where the plot/concepts/characters can be connected with the original and when does a film become a different story connected only by shared names?