Thursday, August 30, 2007

Frodo, Don't Wear the Ring

We all owe a great debt to Jennifer Lynn Jordan over at Per Omnia Saecula for dredging this up. Oh, yes, my precious, we do.

I didn't really start laughing hard until the rapping while fleeing from the Ringwraiths -- then I lost all composure. Apparently, this group Flight of the Conchords has quite the following -- if you go to the YouTube page, you'll also see lots of fan film versions of their parodies.

The Red Sox Destroy the World!

Via JJ Cohen at In the Middle, we find that Roberta Frank has read the portents to discover that the Red Sox will destroy the world. Given that my old friend Vörös McCracken consults for the Sox, I can't say that I'm in the least bit surprised. I have always suspected he would have a hand in ending the world.

Mmmmm ... bitter!

After a long haitus, the Bitter Scroll comes back to life with a haiku and a post about vowel mutation and place-names.

Welcome back, Alfred.

Into the Dragon's Maw

This weekend, I'll be travelling to Atlanta for Dragon*Con. Even though I'm not speaking (it feels weird to go to a conference/convention and not be on the speakers list), it's still a working trip for me, since I'll be gathering up interesting tidbits on popular medievalism. I'll try to blog a bit while I'm there, but that'll depend on internet access at my hotel.

If any Wordhoarders will be there and would like to meet, feel free to e-mail me and we'll see if we can arrange a get-together.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Trojans Learn Their Lesson

This isn't, strictly speaking, medieval, but I did get it from Got Medieval. Please note the findings of this entirely-valid-and-not-at-all-silly experiment: If the Trojan War were held again today, Troy would win, especially if the Australians fought with the Greeks.

News for Medievalists Update

News for Medievalists has an undate today -- 14 new stories by my count!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Medieval Sex Flow Chart

Feeling randy, but unclear on whether your sex could be Church sanctioned? Here is a medieval sex flow chart, based on various medieval penitentials. Yeah, I know it's old news (and flow chart humor is kind of weak), but I promised my medieval lit class I'd post it for them.

This chart has been all over the medieval blogosphere, so I'm not sure who to hat tip. So, here goes:

h/t Entire Medieval Blogosphere.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

"Beowulf: Dragon Slayer" No. 6

Synopsis: Having parted from Ulysses at the end of the last issue, this final issue opens with Beowulf and Nan-zee riding the raft from Atlantis to Crete, where they will seek out the sacred Zumak fruit. A supernatural storm comes upon them and dashes their raft to pieces. Both heroes nearly drown. Meanwhile, we see that Wiglaf, Unferth, and the Shaper have been captured by the "Yondo sect of the T'ang tribe in the land of Pikadon." Wiglaf, now realizing that Unferth has betrayed them, vows revenge after they escape. The Shaper impresses the primitive tribe with his magical illusions, cast with the mystical phrases "Ydnic d'nabob egairram yppah!" and "Kertrats noem rofmoor erehtsi!" They agree to release the others if the Shaper stays. The others leave, but then the Shaper fades away after having vowed to be in Daneland before they arrive. Meanwhile, Beowulf and Nan-zee, having washed up on the shores of Crete, declare their love for one another. They are guided by a mysterious old man with one eye, named "The Peeper," to the labyrinth of King Minos. In the Underworld, Satan names Dracula his heir over Grendel. Grendel's mother learns of this and tells her son. Grendel vows to kill Satan in revenge. Up above, The Peeper traps Beowulf and Nan-zee in the labyrinth, and then reveals "his" true form -- the Slave-Maiden of Satan. The two heroes move to the center of the labrynth, where they fight a minotaur. The minotaur is enraged to see that Beowulf is wearing the skull of its brother as a helmet, and even though Beowulf has defeated another minotaur, Satan himself fights through this creature. Beowulf is on the verge of losing. Just at that moment, in the Underworld, Grendel plunges a stalagtite into Satan's back, killing him. Because of Satan's death, the minotaur loses its diabolical power, and Beowulf easily defeats it. He eats the fruit of the Zumak tree, and finally has the supernatural strength of Grendel. Beowulf breaks through the walls of the labyrinth, and he and Nan-zee make their way back to Daneland to fight Grendel.

It's over! It's finally over! When I started this series on the Beowulf comic, I thought it would be a fun lark. By about issue 4 I was ready to drive a minotaur's horns into my own face simply to end the misery. Though the series ends without real resolution, I can't say that I'll lose sleep at night over what might have been.
This issue is less of a mash-up than previous ones. The main change is that Beowulf is first put into Odysseus's story, then Theseus's tale. The bit about Dracula occurs in the Underworld subplot, and he makes little more than a cameo appearance.

We get some really cheesy love dialogue between Beowulf and Nan-zee, but it is way better than the first time they meet when they insult and fight each other. Beowulf confesses to her:

A prince must be hard of heart to be a strong leader ... to make the right decisions! But beneath my title lies a man, Nan-zee, a man capable of loving and capable of being hurt. There was a girl once ... when I was hardly more than a lad! She was taken from me ... horribly! It hurt! It hurt so much I swore never to let myself become weak ... never to care again!
Let me offer my own confession:
A medievalist must be a diligent reader ... to make good blog posts! But beneath my title lies a man, Wordhoarders, a man capable of being hurt. There was a DC Beowulf comic series once ... when I was only an untenured assistant professor! It was placed before me ... horribly! It hurt! It hurt so much I swore never to let myself read another Beowulf comic series ... never to suffer again!
We also get to see Grendel's mother here, and what I find really fascinating here is her hair. She looks like Princess Leia before she's had a chance to put on her make-up in the morning.
At first I assumed that the buns on the side of the head were part of the Star Wars geek culture of the time, then I realized that this issue was released about a year before Star Wars. Was there already some buns-on-the-side-of-the-head fashion in the early 70s?

Of course, the silliest thing in this issue is the death of Satan at Grendel's hands. No wonder Hrothgar couldn't handle Grendel! I've discussed before the confused and grim cosmology of the Beowulf: Dragon Slayer series, but I'm not really sure how we are supposed to understand this. Presumably Grendel would be slain by Beowulf by the end of the series. Now, Satan is dead, so in our world there is no Satan? I'm not sure why Jesus wasted his time on that whole crucifixion and salvation thing; He could have skipped the Harrowing of Hell and just whacked Satan from behind. In any case, so you don't miss it, here's the death of Satan:

  • Grendel: Yes-s-s! The game is over! Die, Satan, as you made so many others die! Grendel is King of the Underworld!
  • Satan: Aaaaaarrrggghhhh
  • Narrator: The Earth shakes! The Underworld trembles! And somehow, in a way no human being could ever comprehend, Satan is no more! And as the murderous Grendel ascends the throne of evil, he prepares himself for the unholy vengeance of Dracula!
You got that? You can't ever comprehend the death of Satan, you mere human beings. See, it's like death of someone else stabbed in the back by a stalagtite, but nothing like that. TOTALLY different, see? Think you comprehend it? THINK AGAIN!

Perhaps DC Comics did not discontinue the series. Perhaps it continued the series, but the rest of the story continued in a way no human being could ever comprehend. And maybe, just maybe, this blog series will also continue in ways beyond our comprehension.

Previous posts in this series:
"Beowulf: Dragon Slayer" No. 1
"Beowulf: Dragon Slayer" No. 2
"Beowulf: Dragon Slayer" No. 3
"Beowulf: Dragon Slayer" No. 4
"Beowulf: Dragon Slayer" No. 5

Chaucer vs. Langland -- the Battle for Supremacy!

C. David Benson has a review of Chaucer and Langland in The Weekly Standard. The question at hand is why Chaucer's Canterbury Tales hold such a much higher position in the canon than Langland's Piers Plowman. Near the end of the review, Benson gets it exactly right, I think:

Although not Bowers's primary focus here, the value of both Chaucer and Langland must ultimately rest on their artistry. Both wrote in an older English which, like a strong foreign accent, takes some getting used to; but Chaucer appeals immediately because of his sly wit. He is a wonderful storyteller who, especially in the Canterbury Tales, presents us with memorable characters and stories for any taste: from epic romance, to personal confession, to bawdy comedy, to devout saint's life.

By contrast, readers of Chaucer coming to Piers Plowman are often put off by the alliterative poem's length (which is not easily excerpted) as well as by its allegory, interrupted narratives, and moral seriousness. Bowers declares that modern readers "seldom admit great enjoyment" from reading Piers and that "probably no undergraduate has wished it longer."

What Benson elegantly describes as "sly wit" I'll put in a more vulgar way: Chaucer is way funnier than Langland. All these centuries later, and readers of the "Miller's Tale" still laugh so hard that their cheeks hurt afterward.

Friday, August 24, 2007

CFP: Digital Media and Peer Review in Medieval Studies

I usually resist Calls for Papers, since those are really only of interest to scholars, but this one seemed right up the alley of many of the Wordhoarders, so I'll break my embargo this time. If you don't know what a "Call for Papers" is, don't worry about it -- it's a scholarly thing.

Call for Papers for the 43rd International Congress on Medieval Studies, May 8-11, 2008, Kalamazoo, Michigan

The Medieval Academy of America Committee on Electronic Resources invites submissions to the following sponsored session:

"Digital Media and Peer Review in Medieval Studies"

Medievalists are increasingly turning to digital media both to produce new types of scholarship such as encoded texts and non-bookish digital projects (e.g. archives and interactive electronic resources) and to advance andincrease the efficiency of traditional forms of scholarship such as critical editions. There is not yet widespread agreement, however, regarding how this new work should count for academic promotion, and many scholars working in these new media find that there are few established avenues for getting their work peer reviewed. At the same time, we are witnessing rapid and widespread changes in how we use print texts (e.g. often in scanned, searchable copies), and many traditional publishers of print journals and monographs are under enormous financial pressures from declining sales and print runs, thereby further limiting access to peer review and opportunities for publication. How can we, as a community, bring scholarship, publishing, and the need for peer review into balance?

Please email abstracts (not to exceed 300 words) to Timothy Stinson ( Please include name, professional/university affiliation,and contact information.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lots of Neat Stuff

While I'm getting swatted around by the demands of the new semester, and too wiped out to write anything of interest for myself, let me offer up some of the things I've been reading with interest:

If all that reading doesn't sate your medieval appetite, I would recommend reading the Menagier of Paris's treatise to his wife. I've always wanted to read it, but just haven't had the time. I'll read it vicariously through you.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Beowulf, Interrupted

This weekend I was supposed to offer the final (huzzah!) installment of the comic Beowulf: Dragon Slayer. Saturday I wanted to post about the castle my kiddies made, so I put it off until Sunday. Today, though, I had a sudden burst of inspiration for the new book I'm working on, so I spent the time writing non-comic-book-related prose.

Sorry, folks, big scholarly book trumps comic book reviews. I'll probably post the final review later this week.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Eat Your Heart Out, Hrothgar!

What do you get for the medievalist who's got everything? Well, in the case of my children, they decided to make me a birthday castle. First, here are the cardboard-masons who constructed the edifice. Apparently, from the Korean flag atop the structure, this was a European/Korean fusion style castle.

... followed by a close-up of the front gate. Note the alligator in the moat. The finger belongs to the young female cardboard-mason.

And finally, a look at the interior of the castle. I am informed by my in-house medieval archeologists that the red objects are medieval chairs, and the other is a medieval table with a green tablecloth with (from top to bottom) a sword, a pitchfork, and a torch. The white tubes are the interior view of the four turrets of the castle.

So, woe to the troll, dragon, or Viking who tries to assault the lands of Nokes. We are defended by an impregnable castle. We can sit out a long siege in comfortable red chairs while our 'gators eat you alive.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Welcome, Per Omnia Saecula!

I just discovered a brand-spankin'-new medieval blog, Per Omnia Saecula, written by one Jennifer Lynn Jordan. It's just a week old, so let's all hop on over and see what posts she has. So far, there are three:

Anyway, welcome to our community, JLJ. Just avoid the herds of bonnacon with their weapons-grade dung.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Good Things to Read, Written by Smart People

If you're looking for some good things to read on medieval topics, here are some suggestions for you:

I would have commentary on these various pieces, but classes started yesterday, so my synaptic pathways are all leading toward the fall semester. I'll try to be less dumb next week.

Rome Pays Tribute to Arthur

Tomorrow is the release date of a new Arthurian film, The Last Legion. The idea here seems to be that King Arthur was Romulus Augustus, who as I recall was the last Roman emperor to rule from Rome itself.

Wouldn't Geoffrey of Monmouth be surprised to see what had become of his king? Of course, when the Romans demand tribute from the Britons in Geoffrey's History of the Kings of Britain, Arthur responds that the Romans ought to be the ones giving him tribute. Maybe this is the tribute he's been waiting for. Just in case this turns out to be the case, let's keep a lookout for incoming vessels from Avalon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Riddle Contest

SCA Life has an Anglo-Saxon riddle for you to solve as part of a contest. Old English professors* like me will immediately recognize it. The winner gets to choose which of Catslyn's** filks*** she uses in some wordplay or another. I'm going to recuse myself, and would encourage anyone else out there who earns a living as a professional medievalist to do the same. Let's give others a chance, eh?

Please, no one spoil the fun for the rest of us. If anyone posts the answer here in the comments section, I'll delete it.

*Er, by that I mean "professor of Old English," not "elderly English professor."
**In the original post, I misidentified the blogger as "Anachronista." A foolish mistake, because Anachronista's blog is called, well, "Anachronista."
*** By the way, I hate filking. A lot.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Taproot

I can't believe I've never come across this quote before; I must have and simply forgot it.

"The taproot, Anglo-Saxon, can never be abandoned. The man who does not know it remains all his life a child among real English student. There we find the speech-rhythms that we use every day made the basis of metre; there we find the origins of that romanticism for which the ignorant invent such odd explanations. This is our own stuff and its life is in every branch of the tree to the remotest twigs. That we cannot abandon." -- C.S. Lewis*

*qtd. in Tripp, Raymond P., "Power as a Measure of Humanism in Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," Arthurian and Other Studies presented to Shunichi Noguchi. Ed. Takashi Suzuki and Tsuyoshi Mukai. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer: 1.

What about Louis the Fat?

Moyen Age is on a medieval diet ... sort of. It's more along the lines of a medieval-inspired diet. After all, it's improbable that Abelard and Heloise sat down to meals including buffalo bratwurtz, yams, and acorn squash. Still, it's pretty cool.

If medieval food is so healthy, then how do you end up with folks like Louis VI, a.k.a "Loius the Fat?"* I'm thinking of going on my own medieval diet, for those who are with me. For three months, I'll eat only:

Breakfast: Porridge (lots and lots of porridge)
Lunch: Salt pork and bacon. Bread with butter slathered on. A big hunk of cheese.
Dinner: Roast venison. Lots and lots of mead. Maybe I'll just skip the venison and get on with the mead.

Seriously, though, here some recipes for medieval dishes I found online. I can't vouch for either their authenticity or tastiness, but these seem easy enough to prepare.

*If he'd been from Sicily instead of France, we'd call him "Fat Louie" and he'd make guest appearances on The Sopranos.

No longer on the margins, MKH is now In the Middle

Announcement: Mary Kate Hurley of Old English in New York will now be joining J.J. Cohen, Eileen Joy, and Karl Steel at In the Middle. She will continue to maintain OEiNY, though, so no need to update your blogrolls.

That is all. Move along.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sunday Links

  • Carolingian has a post about her experience at the ISAS conference here (I'm jealous as I couldn't go, and now won't get another chance for two more years).
  • News for Medievalists has had another big update, with about a dozen new stories, including this discussion of modern medievalism.
  • Mary Kate Hurley takes offense at the implication by Christopher Hitchens that "anyone who wants to teach Anglo-Saxon must be slightly nuts and hopelessly lost in the fantasy that Beowulf has something to do with popular culture." Happy birthday, MKH!

Cannibals and Beowulf; Or, Eatin' with the Eoten

Karl Steel over at In the Middle tagged me on a question a few days ago, and I've yet to answer. I haven't been ignoring the tag in the post; it just happened to fall on the first day back for faculty. I wanted to look at the Old English Beowulf again before commenting, but I haven't had a chance. I didn't want too much time to elapse before responding, so this is coming off the top of my head a bit, without having reviewed the OE Beowulf and without having read Blurton's work at all.

In any case, for those of you who aren't Old English specialists, the argument has to do with the word "eoten," generally translated as something like "giant" or "monster." Blurton (or at least my reading of Karl's summary of Blurton) is suggesting that "cannibal" would be a better translation.

As Karl points out, the Beowulf manuscript (Cotton Vitellius A.xv) is full of all sorts of monstrousness. Beowulf has some really odd narrative lacunae in the story (most notably 50-odd years). When I try to reconcile these facts with Kevin Kiernan's research on the Beowulf MS, I come up with this speculative conclusion: The Beowulf MS scribe was collecting a codex of monster stories. He had three different monster stories from at least 2 different Beowulf poems, from which he excised the non-monsterous parts, and then knitted the remains back together, giving us our extant Beowulf poem.

That being said, then, I think that the argument about cannibalism holds up very well for the Grendel section, and not so well for the Grendel's mother section and the dragon. Without looking at the OE, I think there is much less threat of being eaten by the eoten.*

Without the OE in front of me, I don't know what to make of the claim that "The Beowulf-poet weaves the word [eoten] through the narrative..." because I don't know if by "narrative" we mean just the narrative about Grendel, or the whole of Beowulf, or the whole of the Beowulf MS. From the context, it looks like Blurton means the entire Cotton Vitellius A.xv manuscript.

Let's limit it here just to what I remember of the Beowulf poem. As I recall, the sword that Beowulf uses to slay Grendel's mother is a sword of the eoten. By this, we can either assume that she is one of the eoten and it's her sword, or that she's NOT one of the eoten and she just happens to have it.

If she is one of the eoten, then the threat to Beowulf should be a cannibalistic threat. I just don’t see that. Sexual threat, yet. A threat to the community, yes. But the regular consumer of coffee and Danish? I don’t see any real evidence of that in the text.

OK, so if she’s not one of the eoten – presumably that means that the un-encountered Grendel’s father must be one – where does that leave us? Beowulf kills Grendel’s mother with a cannibal’s sword, so Beowulf is committing a symbolic act of cannibalism? Beowulf is the cannibal? It is Grendel’s special eoten man-eating sword, and so Grendel’s mother is being symbolically eaten by Grendel? Again, I don’t see any of this in the text.

Grendel and his mother are part of a general Scandinavian troll tradition. Trolls occupied a sort of semi-human category. On the one hand, they are clearly monstrous, but on the other, they are humanoid physically and mentally. Some Viking heroes even claimed to be partially descended from trolls, so they were close enough to humans to cross-breed.

That troll connection, much more than the word eoten, suggests cannibalism to me. The dragon is a mere animal (unlike Grendel, who is more like a mere person)**, and therefore cannot cannibalize humans. Grendel, though, is close enough to human as a troll that his behavior could be considered cannibalism.

So, the short answer is this: I buy the cannibalism argument, but wouldn’t link it at all to the word eoten.

*Do you like that pun? More to come!
**Get it? Get it?! Gosh, I must be tired ... I'm having too much fun with the puns.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

"Beowulf: Dragon Slayer" No. 5

Synopsis: Beowulf and companions, seeking the nectar of the Zumak fruit, come upon a Stonehenge-style structure in a far-away land, presumably Central America as it is covered in Maya glyphs. Beowulf realizes that the monuments "must have been built to recive the chariots of the gods." A pair of mysterious druids suddenly appear and try to capture Beowulf. He and his companions do not do well in the skirmish, in large part because the Shaper's magic is unable to help them, being countered by "a more powerful magic than the world has ever known -- it is called 'Science'!" Unferth flees during the battle and encounters a flying saucer, where he makes a deal with the druid priestess to deliver Beowulf to them, after which time Unferth knocks Beowulf cold from behind during the battle. Beowulf and Nan-zee awake in the spacecraft, flying high above the earth. There they learn from the druid priestess that they have been capturing the greatest warriors on Earth for their gods, and are keeping them in the Chamber of the Sleepers (a kind of suspended animation). The priestess then shoots a beam to the earth to kill all of Beowulf's remaining party. Although "every piece of stone and bone and flesh" are turned into "nothingness," Beowulf's companions emerge with only minor injuries, but are immediately attacked and put in chains by unknown warriors. Beowulf asks about the Zumak fruit, but is told by the priestess that the gods gathered every last bit of it up for their own purposes. He then begins attacking the druids and damaging their ship, awakening all the sleepers, who revolt and defeat the druids. One Greek warrior in particular tells Beowulf that he has seen the Zumak in Crete. Just then, as they are preparing to set the spacecraft down on the continent of Atlantis, the two gods of the druids (and obvious aliens), Ishtar and En-Lil, arrive with ray guns and begin shooting. Beowulf manages to get one of the ray guns and shoots up the ship, causing a chain reaction. As the crashing ship shoots over the active volcano at the center of Atlantis, Beowulf, Nan-zee and the Greek warrior leap out onto the volcano. They race through the market-place of Atlantis, which by chance happens to be sinking at that moment, and manages to make it to a raft -- the only three survivors. The Greek warrior is identified as Ulysses [Odysseus], and the goddess Athena appears in the sky. Ulysses disappears back to his own time, where he will awaken remembering his time on the spacecraft was being spent prisoner on the nymph Calypso's island. Beowulf and Nan-zee vow to go to Crete for the Zumak, and then to return to Daneland to fight both Grendel and Satan.

OK, I am really, really regretting starting this series. I thought that the Dracula / Lost Tribes of Israel issue was over-the-top, but a new top had to be constructed just for this issue to go over it again. The plotline is so confusing that I can't even state for absolute certainty that the above synopsis is accurate -- I'm just giving the best account I can. The drawings, too, are rather confusing, so I sometimes couldn't figure out exactly what was happening. I've put off this installment until late Saturday night because I couldn't figure out any way to structure it -- so I'll just have to walk chronologically through it.

First off, we have the very early 1970s idea of the Chariots of the Gods. For those of you who are too young to know what this is (or just blessed with a sweet, sweet ignorance of crackpot theories), the reference is to a very popular book that claimed that aliens visited Earth's ancient civilizations and gave them technology and religion. Every unexplained glyph was interpreted as some sort of reference to alien technology, and every strange structure was some sort of navigational technology. This issue takes that idea and plays around with it. The "magic" of the druids is some sort of alien tech (Beowulf defeats one druid by short-circuiting his wrist-blasters), and Stonehenge (as well as the fictional Central American Stonehenge) is to guide the alien craft. One of my favorite lines in the issue is this:

Druid Priestess: Your stupidity astounds me! The Earth, like the Sun and the Moon, is round! And the gods built two "stanhengues" far apart for the purposes of triangulation!

Ahem, TRIangulation, with just two? Sounds more like BIangulation to me -- perhaps the alien gods would be wise to build another. We also get a note with the word stanhengues stating that it "is the Old Anglo-Saxon word for 'Stonehenge.'" If I'm correct (and I'm writing this from home, so it might be VERY wrong), that's a reference to Wace saying that the word "stanhengues" comes from Old French (or something similar). Do any Wordhoarders know the exact reference?

By the way, just in case you thought only the Maya were influenced by the alien gods, consider this image of them:

Not only are they pharaonic-looking, but they've got the names of Sumerian gods.

Magic and science also have an interesting relationship to one another. In my post on the previous issue, I remarked about the grim theology in which there appeared to be no god of goodness, only Satan (evil) and Wyrd (uncaring). Here, the Shaper is unable to work his magical incantation against the druids, "Tceffe nalsu ekim ayeh!"* Since the Shaper is the servant of Wyrd, the god of Fate, who we are told is more powerful than Satan (though the Shaper at one point refuses to work magic against Satan in a prior issue, apparently because it was not fated), this seems to suggest that science stands outside of fate, outside of destiny. I'm not sure what that means in the confused theology of Beowulf comics, but there it is.

I suppose what I found most annoying about this issue was that, in their desire to mash-up as many different things as possible, the writing makes no sense. OK, so I'll buy that Beowulf went to Central America, where "Far Eastern Druids" in service of alien gods try to capture him. But when a death ray shoots to the Earth and kills everyone standing around Beowulf's friends, and when we are both told and shown that everything there was obliterated, aren't we at least owed an explanation when only Beowulf's companions survive, and are not in any way visibly injured? I mean, at least let their clothes be torn or their hair be disheveled!

Again, let's say I buy that their alien spacecraft is crashing over Atlantis. I'm supposed to believe that Beowulf, Nan-zee, and Ulysses are able to leap safely from a moving spacecraft? It isn't like this comic book was written in the 1770s -- what do they think paratroupers bother with parachutes for? And they leap onto an erupting volcano? And are the only survivors on the continent? Just consider all of the unbelievably impossible things that happen on just this one page:

  1. En-Lil: Ishtar! The propellant leaks! The fire! Set the ship down before we get a chain-reaction!
  2. Narrator: Down ... down falls the crippled chariot -- and as it nears a smouldering volcano, weird tremors begin to spread over Atlantis...
  3. Beowulf: Hurry! All of you! Seek refuge from the wrath of the gods!
  4. Ulysses: Not a moment to lose! Do you not feel the earth shaking? When this ship erupts, the whole continent will erupt with it!
  5. Narrator: Racing like the Furies through a crumbling Atlantis market-place are six strong but weary legs... Ulysses: Come this way! I know where we can find a raft to safety! Beowulf: Wyrd! Look! The gods are tolling doomsday!

Sigh ... OK, so just on this page. The first panel, I'll buy. It's unlikely that the alien spacecraft would be quite so delicate and unsafe, but it's possible. The second panel too I'll buy -- it seems like its suggested that the spacecraft itself causes an already active volcano to erupt violently. Any continent small enough to be destroyed by a single volcano would not be a "continent" in my book, but I'll accept the idea that the word is used poetically to refer to a large island.

The third panel, though? The spacecraft apparently has a large, open window (which must make viewing easier, breathing more difficult)? They leap out as the spaceship is streaking across the sky. OK, now just the height alone should have killed them, but even if it were not very high, what about the speed? Even when I was a young kid of the comic-reading demographic, I understood that if I lept from my family's wood-paneled station wagon as it was barrelling down the highway, even though the drop was only about a foot, the landing would probably feel unpleasant. And, if the speed and height weren't enough, the artist draws flames below, so we know they are dropping right into the fires of an erupting volcano.

The fourth panel, then, shows us just how far they are dropping. They seem to be falling long enough to have a conversation. Ulysses is able to feel the ground shaking from mid-air, and also seems to have a basic understanding of a nuclear reaction (guess he had good tutors back on Ithaca). We have some missing action from panels 4-5, during which time they apparently land safely in the flames of the volcano and run down its side into the center of the city.

Why then are they the only survivors? Because Ulysses, who has spent the last few centuries in hypersleep aboard an alien spacecraft, knows where there is a raft that they can take to safety. Apparently, the Atlantians themselves were completely ignorant of where their port was, because none of them made it to safety.

All this begs the question: Why did it take Ulysses (Odysseus) so long to win the Trojan War? The Greeks could have simply catapulted him into Troy. He would have landed safely, and then could have set the city ablaze. He, being invulnerable to fire, would have remained unscathed, while the Trojans, not having any idea where the exits were, would have all burned to death. Then you wouldn't have any pesky Trojan diaspora to found Rome and Britain.

Seriously, though, what the heck is Ulysses doing in this issue? His only jobs seem to be to point out that centuries ago there were Zumak plants in Crete, and to show psychic knowledge of Atlantian raft placement.

Thank the alien gods En-Lil and Ishtar** that there is only one more issue to go -- I couldn't take much more!

*Mike Ulsan is the main writer of the comic.
**With special appreciation to Wyrd, without whom none of this would be possible.

Previous posts in this series:
"Beowulf: Dragon Slayer" No. 1
"Beowulf: Dragon Slayer" No. 2
"Beowulf: Dragon Slayer" No. 3
"Beowulf: Dragon Slayer" No. 4

Friday, August 10, 2007

Wheaton College (MA) job

Unemployed? Underemployed? Sporting your Medieval History PhD around town? Michael Drout has the inside scoop on a medieval history job at Wheaton College.

If you get the job after having first read about it here, you owe me a 15% finders fee on your annual salary. That's fair, isn't it?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Synod of Whitby

Don't know anything about the Synod of Whitby (664*)? Heavenfield has a nice summary and commentary on it. If that's not enough Whitbylicousness to satisfy you, try the page or find out what the Catholics say about it vs. what the Anglicans say about it.

Of course, even better is to read Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation** and watch Bede get worked up into a froth over the date of Easter.

*Note the comments below; in the original post, I got distracted and meant to type the phrase "(in 664 -- as Heavenfield points out, 1343 years ago)" but instead just typed 1343 as if it happened in A.D. 1343. This would have made Bede's Ecclesiastical History a miracle of time travel.
**I know it's translated "Ecclesiastical History of the English People" in the linked Penguin edition, but what's the use of being a medieval lit professor if I can't get all persnickety about such issues?

The Saxon Chronicles

During a telephone conversation with Cyning Meadowcroft today (I'll blog about that in a week or two), he commented on what a shame it is that Hollywood hasn't seen fit to give King Alfred the Great the big epic movie treatment. On a whim, I decided to check YouTube to see if maybe there were Alfred fan films out there ... and there were!

I found the trailers for The Saxon Chronicles, which was apparently shot in two weeks for $10,000. Considering those constraints, the trailers looked pretty good. I'd love to see it.

Unfortunately, the website for the production company seems to be defunct, and the similarly named Saxon: The Saxon Chronicles appears to be a video for a metal band called "Saxon." I'd really like to lay hands on a copy of this. Do any Wordhoarders know how I might get ahold of it?

The two trailers are below.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Mr. Scabies and Academic Blogs

Perhaps my least favorite type of blogging is blogging about blogging. It has the potential to be meta-blogging, but generally just tastes like flat Diet Rite Cola. I hate to have two posts in a row about blogging, but sometimes that's just the way things fall out.

A little brouhaha has broken out over at New Kid on the Hallway regarding this comment Steve Muhlberger made -- and just as Muhlberger is on his blogging vacation, too. The question at hand is whether or not blogging about academic life has peaked. Myself, I'm inclined to think it hasn't -- after all, I read New Kid's fine blog regularly -- but that's just not what the Wordhoard is about.

The side issue has to do with cat blogging -- the reference to "Mr. Scabies." I can't figure out the fixation that academics have with their dang cats. Surely no one thinks anyone else wants to see pictures of their cats, so the pleasure must be somehow exhibitionist. I suppose love of pictures of cats wearing human clothing is at least one point of potential connection between Academia and viewers of the Home Shopping Network.

I suppose if one is blogging about the academic life and one's cats, at least one isn't libeling Dr. Virago as I inadvertantly did in this post. Sorry, Dr. V!

The Unlocked Wordhoard -- Final Arbiter of Medieval Cool

Two weeks ago, I posted that I was considering changing my link policy, and asked for feedback on the proposed changes. And, boy, did I get it! A few folks commented online, but mostly I received private e-mails, ranging from the polite "Please don't de-link me" to the panicked "PLEASE, oh for the love of all that is good in this world, please don't de-link me!"

OK, OK, let's all just take a deep breath and relax. Think of Peter's attitude in Office Space, m'kay?

Some months ago, I had dinner with Jeff Sypeck of Quid Plura? We were talking with another colleague, and Jeff referred to the Unlocked Wordhoard as the "central clearinghouse" for medievalism. I was flattered, but thought he was just being polite. Some of the e-mails I received, though, made it clear that many other medieval blogs rely on the Wordhoard for much of their traffic.

Somehow, without me realizing it, the Wordhoard has become that girl at high school who decides who is cool and who isn't. Get invited to sit at her table for lunch, and you're labeled "cool" for the next four years. Have her address you with scorn, and you can expect four years of swirlies*. The new link policy was taken as an indication that the Wordhoard was about to become a mean girl, arbitrarily apotheosizing some while damning others.

Well, if the Wordhoard is going to decide what's cool and medieval, then by the Venerable Bede, I'm gonna make this a rising tide for ALL boats. The new link policy will be applied primarily to new entries on the blogroll, with a general grandfather-clause for those who are already there.** I think I caused a misunderstanding wherein a lot of people thought I was looking for reasons to cull the herd; that wasn't it at all. I just wanted the blogroll to reflect the Wordhoard's identity. Just because you go a week or two without a medieval post doesn't mean that I'll cackle maniacally and cross you off the blogroll with a big red marker. I might cackle maniacally, but that's just my way.

Ever notice that I've resisted putting comments below the fold? Every comment made here is splashed right on the front page, with no extra clickage necessary. Besides my general computer illiteracy, there is actually an editorial reason for that: Because I want the Wordhoard to be a place for a community of medievalists, not just a site for the pompous pronouncements of my alter-ego, Professor Awesome, PhD. The blogroll will continue to reflect that philosophy.

You're all invited to sit with me in the lunchroom. And if you're all there too, it'll be the cool table.

*"Bogwashing" for you Brits, and "Dunnyflushing" for you Aussies. See how international we are at the Wordhoard?
** I say "general" grandfather-clause to leave myself some wiggle room, in case I need it.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Three Unrelated Links

I'm busy with back-to-school prep for the kids and me both, so I offer for your medievalist viewing pleasure the following three links:

Carolingian over at Medievalisms has a report from the ISAS (International Society of Anglo-Saxonists) Conference.

Dr. Virago has a post about faith-based toys, and writes about how the market for re-tellings of Biblical stories strikes her as medieval. It doesn't strike me that way, but then again, I'm much more familiar with the Protestant sub-culture than Dr. V., and friendlier to the Catholic sub-culture (so friendly, in fact, that I appear to be on every dang Catholic mass mailing list in the country -- just ask my postal carrier!). Anyway, I thought the post was an interesting view into the way modern Christianity is viewed as "medieval" by a medieval scholar.

Jeff Sypeck over at Quid Plura? tries to hunt down the source of a Charlemagne quotation in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and comes up empty. For those who doen't remember, Indiana's father downs a Nazi plane by frightening a flock of birds to fly up in its path and get sucked into the engines, and then attributes this quote to Charlemagne: "Let my armies be the rocks and the trees and the birds in the sky..." It looks like the quote might be made up.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Dendle Responds on Demonic Possession in Anglo-Saxon England

Peter Dendle has commented in this earlier post on Anglo-Saxon demons. As regular Wordhoarders will recall, many of us objected to his research as it was presented in National Geographic. He was good enough to clarify some of the points people objected to.

I'm sure there's a way to move that post to the top, but I can't figure it out, so here it is in link form.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Beowulf and Christianity

The Bourgeois Nerd sent me this link a few days ago, but I resisted putting it on until I had a non-Beowulfian post. Alas, all the news at the moment seems to be about popular adaptations of Beowulf -- perhaps the effect of half of the Anglo-Saxon scholarly world being at ISAS. Why am I not at ISAS? Ran out of time and money. Here's hoping I can make it next time.

In any case, I don't want to wait any longer, so here's "Beowulf, Suffering Servant."

"Beowulf: Dragon Slayer" No. 4

Synopsis: As Beowulf and his companions travel across the desert in search of the Zumak fruit (which Beowulf needs to defeat Grendel), they are set upon by a band of warriors who mistake him for Dracula. After a brief battle, the warriors realize their error and identify themselves as "The Ashers," the Lost Tribe of Israel. They are hunting Vlad the Impaler, who has been plundering the peoples of the desert and drinking their blood. Beowulf agrees to help them. Meanwhile, Grendel reminds Satan that his promise to allow him to fight Beowulf at the next full moon has come due. As Beowulf sits around the fire talking with the Rabbi of the Lost Tribe, the fire engulfs the warriors and shrinks them, sending them to Castle Hrothgar. After a discussion, it is decided that Wiglaf, Hondscio, and Beowulf will wait in the meadhall alone for Grendel. That night, Grendel bursts in and eats Hondscio alive. The battle is going poorly, with Grendel crushing Beowulf. Satan then magically whisks the warriors away to the desert, and Grendel is satisfied to wait for the final battle, knowing that he is supreme. Beowulf asks the Shaper to write of only one battle with Grendel in the poem, so that Hondscio will be immortalized as sacrificing his life for his comrades. At just that moment, Dracula and his men attack. The rabbi is killed. Just as Beowulf and Dracula meet on the battlefield, though, one of Dracula's men is possessed by the Devil and slays Dracula. Satan then announces that he has decided to make Dracula the "first of the Undead." Beowulf and the Lost Tribe, each having lost someone important to them, go their separate ways.

The phrase "jumping the shark" just seems inadequate here. First of all, it has become so cliche that I hesitate to use it at all. Second, the Fonz merely jumped over a single shark. Beowulf, in one issue, fought Dracula, met the Lost Tribe of Israel, and fought a losing battle with Grendel. Not even Abbott and Costello were this audacious in their series of "Abbott and Costello Meet ..." films. No, this goes beyond "jumping the shark."

I was struck by how theologically bleak this series is. Thus far, we have seen two gods: Satan, who is clearly a god of evil, and Wyrd, who is explicitly described as neither good nor evil. Where is the God of Good? In speaking to the warriors of the Lost Tribe, Beowulf says, "You may dress differently and believe in a different god, but we fight for the same cause." Yet Beowulf's god, Wyrd, is a definite presence, and his servants perform miracles (magic) using his power. Satan, the god of evil, can't help but pop into the comic all the time. Yet the God of the Lost Tribe either does not exist or takes no interest in the characters. When Satan summons Beowulf & friends through the flames, the Rabbi tries to counter it with a mystical chant ("Wen si esle tahw!") that fails to do anything. Satan, and evil, appear to rule essentially unopposed.

This issue also makes explicit the idea that these are the actual historical events, and that the poem as we know it is the fictionalization of the events, rather than visa-versa. Perhaps for this reason, the only parts of this issue that aren't absolutely ridiculous are the parts that come from the poem itself. The death of Hondscio, for example, is almost poignant. Nan-zee is neatly removed from that part of the narrative by simply having only Beowulf, Hondscio, and Wiglaf trapped by the magical fire. Then, when Beowulf decides to go face Grendel alone, Wiglaf and Handscio object, and Beowulf agrees to have them join him. The narrator says, "A strong claps of friendship and love by the three comrades -- and as their eyes dilate and redden, they know that never again will they all be together..." When we see Hondscio waiting alone, he contemplates his full life, and how much he loves his wife and children. The death of Hondscio, in the panels below, runs like this:

  1. Beowulf: "Away from him, slaughter-demon! Face Beowulf!" Grendel: "Back you putrid nothings! Grendel hungers!"
  2. We see Hondscio in Grendels' grip, in obvious pain.
  3. Beowulf: "Hondscio! God ... No!"
  4. Grendel: "Ggggrrrraaaagg" Wiglaf: "Eaten alive!" Beowulf: "Never again! Never Again!"
  5. Beowulf: "For Hondscio!"

Then Beowulf is denied his action hero moment. In the ensuing battle with Grendel, he is clearly losing, and cannot win without the magical potions from Satan. Even then, he is only saved by the intervention of Satan, not because of his own virtue or strength. For the rest of the issue, even while Nan-zee is cracking one-liners during battle, Beowulf cries "For Hondscio! For Hondscio!"

In one last note: When the Shaper uses magic to fight in battle, the magic words are "Siht potnanoc eesstel!" -- another Conan reference.

The two words that best describe this issue: Bleak and silly, by turns. Unfortunately, mostly silly.

Previous posts in this series:
"Beowulf: Dragon Slayer" No. 1
"Beowulf: Dragon Slayer" No. 2
"Beowulf: Dragon Slayer" No. 3

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Nazis & Beowulf: Prince of the Geats

I hadn't meant for today to turn into a series of posts about Beowulf: Prince of the Geats, but I keep finding interesting stuff and getting interesting stuff sent to me. Apparently, the Nazis don't much care for B:PotG, describing the project as "left-wing fanatasism."

Me, I'm not a big fan of socialism in any of its guises (national or international), so perhaps now I'll start having the kind of trouble with Nazis that I used to have with Communists. Plus, I'm a miscegenator, so that can't help much.

That's me: Medievalist, anti-socialist, miscegenator. A threat to Nazis and Communists everywhere.

Beowulf and Hunferth

Scott Wegener, the executive producer for Beowulf: Prince of the Geats, was kind enough to send me an image. On the left is the elder Beowulf, and on the right is the elder Unferth (called "Hunferth" in B:PotG). You can find my original post here.

According to the official website, Beowulf is portrayed by Damon Lynch III, and Hunferth by Bob Elkins. Wegener also sent me an image of Beowulf fighting the dragon, but it didn't quite come through the e-mail right, so we might have another image for you later.

By the way, I also found an image of Grendel's Mother ("Helldam") on Deborah Smith Ford's website. Scroll all the way down -- it's the one on the bottom left side.