Tag Archives: fantasy fiction

Beowulf: The enduring appeal of an Anglo-Saxon ‘superhero story’

Viking

Here’s a great article from the BBC on the enduring influence of the epic poem that defined Western literature and thought:

Some 1,300 years on from when most historians believe it was written, Beowulf continues to be shared, adapted and revised, whether on screen, in print or in song.

JRR Tolkien, who was a noted expert on the poem, is widely thought to have taken inspiration from Beowulf for his Lord of the Rings trilogy.

According to Prof Andrew Burn, from University College London (UCL), the roots of popular medieval-themed video games and TV shows can also be found in this epic saga.

“Look at Lord of the Rings, Dungeons & Dragons, Game of Thrones, any of those big TV franchises, and you realise what the perennial source of interest there is in the same themes: bravery, mortality, power struggles, social hierarchy,” he says.

Beowulf was one of my favorites as a student in high school and college. I now own translations by Kevin Crossley-Holland, Burton Raffel, JRR Tolkien, and Seamus Heaney. Of the four, my favorite is Heaney’s. Its sparkling, dynamic prose best matches the spirit and power of the story and its characters. Here’s a taste from page 51. It’s the scene where Beowulf, who has chosen to fight Grendel bare-handed, first tackles the monster in the mead-hall of King Hrothgar:

And now the timbers trembled and sang,
a hall-session that harrowed every Dane
inside the stockade: stumbling in fury,
the two contenders crashed through the building.
The hall clattered and hammered, but somehow
survived the onslaught and kept standing.

The legacy and importance of Beowulf was not only established by its being a robust and entertaining tale, but because it defined Western civilization itself. The worldview here is one of accommodation and repurposing of pagan traditions. Instead of scouring the old ways it encountered, Christianity adapted pagan values and made them its own. For example, Beowulf is presented as a warrior-savior, a kind of Nordic Jesus. And as James C. Russell argued in The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity, Christianity in northern Europe was significantly altered to become a “world-embracing” rather than a “world-denying” religion. As Kevin Crossley-Holland concludes in the BBC article, one of Beowulf’s themes is that “On the whole, life’s to be relished, lived to the full, laughed with and at.”

JRR Tolkien certainly concurred with that view, as every page of The Lord of the Ring confirms.

Advertisements

Quote of the day

del Toro

“And I want to tell you, everyone that is dreaming of using the genre of fantasy to tell the stories about the things that are real in the world today – you can do it! This is a door. Kick it open and come in!” – Guillermo Del Toro, accepting an Oscar for The Shape of Water.

By GuillemMedina – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66203883

Why we need fantasy

Explore!

The great struggle of our age is to re-assert our humanity against those institutions that define and treat us as simple automatons. Freudian “Drive-Reduction Theory” attempted to minimize all life into simplistic, mechanical terms. B. F. Skinner went so far as to claim that ALL behavior results from external reinforcement: Reward “good” behavior and punish “bad” behavior, and humans can be conditioned for the better. Utopia, therefore, is just a few conditioning sessions away …

Problem is, living things are inherently complex. Life refuses to be contained within formulas. So when behavioral scientists observed subjects ignoring rewards and spontaneously exploring and experimenting, they had to admit this impulse was internal, rather than external, as Skinner had assumed. A new term arose to describe this activity, as this refreshing article from Medium reports:

Intrinsic motivation refers to the spontaneous tendency “to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise one’s capacity, to explore, and to learn” (Ryan and Deci, 2000, p.70).

Exercise, games, travel, reading, and even watching TV all satisfy the seeking system to varying levels of effortful operation. On one side of the spectrum someone could climb Mount Everest, and on the other they could browse Netflix. Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp defines this exploratory behaviour as being driven by the organisms innate seeking system. To reiterate, the anomaly behind seeking is that it provides seemingly very little utilitarian value — it does not fulfil some physiological needs deficit, but we do it anyway. We create our own value from within. Also fascinating, we now know that organisms behave in intrinsically motivated ways even when they are lacking ‘basic’ needs such as food, water, or shelter. How many times have you seen a homeless person reading a book? Do you think they’re practising for a job interview? No, they’re seeking.

The drive to seek, to explore, and experience new things is what attracts us to fantasy. We revolt against the dreary uniformity of globalism by seeking out realms of imagination. That’s why science fiction and fantasy fuel so much popular culture these days. The fantastic is that place where we can once again experience wonder.

The Real Conan

Robert E. Howard

What accounts for the enduring popularity of Robert E. Howard’s most famous creation, Conan of Cimmeria? Author John C. Wright offers this perceptive analysis:

Conan is somewhat more deep and complex than the cartoon image of a brute in a bearskin loincloth found the popular imagination, with a dancing girl clutching his brawny thigh and a devil-beast dying under his bloody ax. The theme and philosophy he represents is not the product of adolescent neurosis (as certain bitter critics would have us believe) but of somber, even cynical, reflection on the age of the world, the costs of civilization, and the frailty of man.

Howard, despite his lack of formal education, was well-read and intellectually curious. The worldview behind his Conan stories is broad, well-crafted, insightful, and still worthwhile for the modern reader. Wright’s introduction is an invaluable introduction to one of the great writers of our age.

A Review: THE GENIE HUNT

The Genie Hunt

I am honored by this kind review from author K. D. Dowdall:

M. C. Tuggle’s The Genie Hunt is so engaging that I could not put it down. I continued reading it until the end, without stopping. It is not often that I want to reread a novel that I just finished reading. It is that good. It is a rather unique story about a lawyer, a reformed law-breaker, a kidnapped Genie, and a crime. It is a story about a friendship under duress, life-threatening danger, and a who-done-it mystery. The writing is superb, smooth transitions through scenes, characters that are so real that I was sure I knew them. It was the great dialogue, however, that moved the story along, including, strong pacing and time elements, that rang true.

Please read the rest at K. D. Dowdall’s blog, and click the “Like” button.

This day in history

JRR Tolkien

From Infogalactic: The Hobbit, or There and Back Again is a fantasy novel and children’s book by English author J. R. R. Tolkien. It was published on 21 September 1937 to wide critical acclaim, being nominated for the Carnegie Medal and awarded a prize from the New York Herald Tribune for best juvenile fiction. The book remains popular and is recognized as a classic in children’s literature.

What makes The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings so memorable is that the world Tolkien creates is wondrous, terrifying, and fascinating, yet instantly recognizable. The reader soon discovers that underneath the text, a learned, wise, and benevolent soul is joyfully at play with profound truths. I think Tolkien’s works best illustrate the insight that effective fiction reveals only the tip of the iceberg, stimulating the reader to discover for himself the story’s deeper meanings. Tolkien the scholar was an authority on ancient myths and languages, yet also a modern man who had seen war and knew the dark and bright crevices within the human soul. Tolkien the writer crafted an entertaining tale that guides the reader toward a vision that inspires both caution and hope.

That’s quite an achievement.

Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore

Review of The Genie Hunt
The latest from Smorgasbord – Variety is the Spice of Life —
Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore: New Book on the Shelves – The Genie Hunt by M.C. Tuggle.

A welcome to M.C. Tuggle to the bookstore with his latest book The Genie Hunt (Spook Hunters Book 1) published on May 8th 2017. Thank you for popping today and it would be great if you could pass on the word about Mike’s new book.. thanks Sally.

Smorgasbord features book reviews, author interviews, and music reviews. Check it out!