Monday, December 05, 2005

You read Beowulf 3 times? Really...?

Laura at Mewing.net has a quiz entitled, "What Awful Book are You?" in which the annoyingly non-capitalizing Laura gives you eight questions to respond to, and from these determines which of six "awful books" you are. One the the possible outcomes is Beowulf.

Now, I don't really care whether she likes it or not -- there's no accounting for taste, as the cliche goes. What I find irritating is that after three readings of the book, she STILL gets it wrong. Two of the answers that are supposed to lead to Beowulf shouldn't. For those of you not so good at math, that means that if she were to have taken her own test on the book she would have scored only a C.

The two wrong question/answers:

pick a setting you like:
england in the middle ages


Please note that Beowulf is not set in England, none of the action takes place in England, and it contains no characters from nor any mention of England. How about "denmark in the middle ages" or, more accurately, "scandinavia in the middle ages?" It is written in English, but that's not the setting.

The other wrong answer:

if you were a book, who would most likely read you?
students in brit lit I (middle english to 1600)


Since the book is written in Old English (not, in fact, Middle English), a class from Middle English (1066) to 1600 would not study Beowulf.

Those are the questions that are objectively wrong. Two that are subjectively wrong:

why do people hate you?
i'm repetitive


... because I find that most of my students struggle with the digressions more than any perceived repetitions, and

what would make you WORSE?
if i were not translated out of my original language


... because Beowulf is much cooler in the original language -- especially since it contains my favorite pun in Old English. No matter how many times I read it, I always laugh when Hrothgar commands his people to decorate Heorot Hall "with hond."

So, Laura, sorry, but you still receive a C-. Try reading Liuzza's edition of Beowulf, and maybe you'll like it better. Give Beowulf another chance. Fourth time's the charm!

4 comments:

  1. Tom Elrod1:18 AM

    I wouldn't get too upset by this. She admits to being incapable of finishing Paradise Lost. While Paradise Lost may be understandably difficuly for some, if you're an English major you really should get through Paradise Lost, kind of like how biology majors really need to understand cellular mitosis. Basically, she's an example of one of those English majors (and I am an English major, by the way) who likes the idea of literature without actually wanting to read or talk about anything that might be different or challenging. (I forget who said it, but some English prof. in an essay somewhere said that English majors who admit to not "liking poetry" shouldn't be English majors.)

    She's obviously trying to be "hip" (J.R.R. Tolkien has lots of initials, thus no first name...hehehe) by stomping on a lot of popular literature. (Except Mein Kampf, whose inclusion seems to be merely to induce some kind of shock value. Conrad is not Hitler, so I don't know what she's getting at.)

    I would just ignore it, although I understand how frustrating it can be when someone says that Beowulf is a precursor to modern action films.

    Riiiiiight....

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  2. I wasn't actually upset -- though I would have been if she were a graduate from MY school rather than New York -- and, to her credit, she lists *Beowulf* as the least hated (3 of a possible 10) of all of the works. I was just have a little fun at her expense when I realized she missed 25% on a test she herself wrote.

    There is also another breed of English major (she doesn't appear to fall into this camp) that likes the idea of being an English major more than the major itself. The worst of this variety are the creative writers who like to say things like "I'm a poet," but don't actually read or write any poetry. You can generally recognize the type by their penchant for wearing black, drinking and/or smoking a lot, and sprinkling their conversations liberally with the word "bourgeois" used a perjorative.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go put on my black beret, spark up a clove cigarette, and drink a merlot before heading down to the local coffee house -- no, no, not the Starbucks; it's so bourgeois.

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  3. The worst of this variety are the creative writers who like to say things like "I'm a poet," but don't actually read or write any poetry. You can generally recognize the type by their penchant for wearing black, drinking and/or smoking a lot, and sprinkling their conversations liberally with the word "bourgeois" used a perjorative.

    Dr. Nokes--your comment had me laughing at the computer. Yes--but the worst of the worst are those self-styled poets who write volumes of self-referential and deliberately obscure verse. In my experience, not only do they not read poetry, but they are proud of the deliberate poverty of their experience and influence. They put their work out for comment then spend all their energy arguing with the critique. I'd *rather* they spend their time smoking clove cigarettes in fashionable pubs and not write, thank you very much.

    :)
    ljcohen

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  4. I'm sorry you didn't find my quiz funny. Most people do. That being said, the quiz was meant to be a lighthearted jab at myself and others who hold easily-mocked strong opinions about literature and not to be a "test on the book."

    I'm amused that Mr. Elrod thinks I am trying to be "hip." Ha. If I were, would I have included Pynchon? Every good hipster loves Pynchon.

    I should link you to some papers I wrote for my English classes to win your favor. I'm a little abashed that a professor thinks I'm stupid now.

    -Laura (capitalizing to appease you)

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