On Folk versus Formal Religion: or, Why I Hate Hollywood's Corruption of Epic Texts

 Siegfried, the hero of the North, and Beowulf, the hero of the Anglo-Saxons (1909) [Public Domain] via Wikimedia

BeowulfBeowulf by Unknown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first time I have read this epic poem but having seen the horrible 3D movie (cartoon?) beforehand, my imagination was all awry. Of note is the Christian versus pagan context that is completely missed by the movie, and also the context of the story is all over the shop. I was confused by the epic poem's plot but have since learnt that there are three seemingly disjointed stories, and there is no Angelina Jolie dragon for the two heroes to have slept with. Indeed, the movie makes Hrothgar and Beowulf look like idiots. The only part of the movie that made any sense in the context of the ancient text was the coastguard riding up to challenge Beowulf's armed warband (one of the typical "look at me I'm in 3D" shots with his spear). The rest just makes me angry at the movie! I drew some parallels with the Christian/pagan issue with my coinciding trip to Hong Kong. On a visit to Lamma Island, I asked my Chinese-speaking colleague about the Tian Hou Temple. She replied that it was something about the Queen of Heaven. I wondered whether it was Buddhist or what and looked it up when I returned to the hotel. It was interesting that Tian Hou evolved into the Empress of Heaven from a humble goddess of water and fishing. As Hong Kong originated as a fishing village, that makes sense. I have since learnt that various religious practices from Buddhism were incorporated into the worship of the polytheist local gods, and during numerous political eras, local deities were accepted and encouraged by governments over the centuries where these helped with civil stability (during the Han Dynasty, I think). Such Chinese "folk" religions are known as "Shenism". This interested me no end! Yet another thing I knew nothing about. In Beowulf, I felt the same tension between folk and formal religion, and it is clear that the text provides witness to the early days of Christianity in the region. I also felt I had seen numerous movies that draw on the different plots of the text. It is short and quick but would take several readings to better piece together the confusing plots, but others have agonised over this sufficiently for me to know my confusion was not just poor attention to detail!

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