Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Live! Nude! Geats!

In recent months, I've learned that the Second Commandment of Medieval Blogging is "Thou shalt not suggest Neil Gaiman is a mere mortal."* Therefore, please PLEASE PLEASE, can we forego the requisite "but Neil Gaiman is involved and annoints all his projects with a holy touch" protests, and just proceed as if they have already been made and noted?

The LA Times ran a piece about the coming Beowulf movie, which included this very odd paragraph:
His knack for a good scrap is on show in one of the film's pivotal fight scenes when Beowulf battles Grendel in the nude, mano a beast-o. ("Bob asked if he had to be nude, but we said, 'It's in the poem,' " Gaiman explained.) So in a crafty bit of staging to allow a PG-13 rating, Beowulf's naughty bits are obfuscated by random objects in the foreground. It's more subtle and subdued, but shadows, swords, mead flagons and shoulders block all in a sequence not unlike the prankish cloaking device used in "Austin Powers" films.

Er, how's that? "Bob," I assume, is Robert Zemeckis, and the "he" is the CGI Beowulf. So Gaiman is insisting that Beowulf be nude in his battle with Grendel, because "It's in the poem?!"

Now, Gaiman has complained before that the reporting on Beowulf is less-than-accurate, specifically in the area of actor nudity, and this is the LA Times, so perhaps the report isn't quite right. Assuming for now, though, that it IS right, Gaiman's reading of the poem is that Beowulf fights Grendel nude?

Let me confess that the only Beowulf I have at home is the Seamus Heaney translation, and not a single copy in Old English unless I head into the office. I've looked through the Heaney translation to see where Gaiman is getting this homoerotic Beowulf from, and the only thing I can figure is that it is his reading of when Beowulf removes his armor and vows to fight Grendel weaponless. I even did a little Google search on the terms "Beowulf" and "nude" and "naked," to see if there was some tradition about a nude Beowulf that had somehow passed me by, and the only thing I found was this Rockwell Kent illustration from the 1930s.

Off the top of my head, the only appropriate OE word I can think of is "nacod," from which we obviously get our Modern English word "naked." Where's Gaiman getting this idea from ... and what the heck did he think actually was going on in that meadhall most nights? Heck, I'm not even sure that Grendel was naked, since he's of the troll-type.

Regardless, it is disconcerting how often the words "nude" and "naked" are being associated with this new Beowulf movie. If Hollywood is that desperate to have nudity in a canonical work of medieval literature, they might pick something out of the Decameron -- it gives lots of options.

h/t Old English in New York

*The First Commandment of Medieval Blogging being "Thou shalt not show insufficient zeal in thy praise of Tolkien."


  1. Yeah, when I was reading the article yesterday, I was muttering "WTF?" at the newsprint.

    But if you think about it, there seems to be a sustained effort to retell gory violence as (possibly gory) sex. That could be interesting.

    Or, of course, it could blow chunks.

  2. cagey111:10 AM

    With Angelina playing Mom one can expect not only nudity, but Chinese Tattoos, gunplay, multiple adoptions, & a suspended vial of hillbilly blood. JoeBob says check it out!

  3. Somewhere in the literature of 14thC deeds of arms "naked" or some word like it was used at least once to designate someone fighting in no armor.

    Not a very helpful observation I know but someone might want to follow this up. Or just ask "where in the poem does it say that?"

    I admit I am curious.

  4. When I lived in Berkeley, I used to visit San Francisco every Saturday and hike the city all day long.

    Not wanting to be caught nacod in certain areas, I always made sure to wear my bawdy armor.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  5. Having seen the preview of Beowulf that Gaiman linked on his site I suddenly feel like I have been acting rather naively in putting so much faith in this film simply because Gaiman is involved.

    I mean for crying out loud, how the hell do Gaiman and Avery feel justified in making Grendel's mother sedeductive!? In the preview she actually kissed Beowulf! I fully retract all positive comments I have ever said concerning the upcoming Beowulf film. To be quite honest it looks absolutely dreadful.

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