Beowulf at Chick-Fil-A

Tonight I was sitting in Chick-Fil-A in Rome on Shorter Avenue, eating dinner with my family when my ears pricked up at “Beowulf” from another table nearby. I looked up from my grilled chicken sandwich to see four college-aged students talking animatedly about Beowulf? I asked myself. My daughter said something to me; I said, “Hush a sec–I’m listening to a conversation over at that table.” Then I heard, “It’s coming out. . . movie. . . I heard they don’t even follow the original plot.” I was hooked.

I told my husband, “I’m going to go over and introduce myself so I can find out what they are saying about Beowulf.” I mean–Beowulf at Chick-Fil-A!

It turns out that these are four students at Berry College, and they were discussing upcoming course choices. It turns out that each of them had read Beowulf in high school and pretty much (no surprise) each of these highly intelligent, very dynamic-looking young women had strong opinions about Beowulf. Shorter College and Berry College are rivals, but I’ve always had good luck meeting wonderful colleagues at Berry and also students (who come over and take my courses at Shorter), so I was not surprised to meet four more amazing Berry College students DISCUSSING such an erudite subject in The Dwarf House.

One said she’d been required to read Beowulf IN OLD ENGLISH as a SOPHOMORE in HIGH SCHOOL. I was both amazed AND appalled. I said, “That’s like reading Virgil before studying and learning Latin. Oh my goodness! I’m so sorry!” She continued, “It made me hate Beowulf.” Little wonder. I so understand! One of the students said she’d studied Latin for four years. These four students were an impressive group!

I told them that it seems Beowulf is either read in the original at too early an age (but I doubt that happens too very often) OR is read in a horrible prose translation. I told them I don’t ask students in college courses that I teach, “Do you like Beowulf?” I ask, “How much do you dislike Beowulf and why?” Then I hope we can start over and get a fresh look at it, but it’s hard. There’s such a built-in “I’ve been forced to read and study it in a horrible fashion, and I can never stop resenting it.”

Why don’t high schools use the Seamus Heaney bilingual translation? Then at least passing reference can be made to the Old English on one side of the page, for flavoring. Or why can’t Beowulf be read in my friend Roy Liuzza’s amazing poetic translation? Look for R. M. Liuzza’s Beowulf (Broadview Press, 1999). It’s awesome!

All I can say is that I was thrilled to hear Beowulf‘s being discussed at Chick-Fil-A this evening!

Another note–these students wondered why hasn’t a movie been made that follows Beowulf‘s original plot. I agree! So does my husband. I love The Thirteenth Warrior with Antonio Banderas because it doesn’t pretend even to make a stab at following the plot at all, but the Grendel character has a nice, scary feel, as does his very icky cave-dwelling mom. The movie has the right “feel” to it. But Angelina Jolie’s part in this upcoming Beowulf has me skeptical. We’ll see.

About Carmen

I teach English at Shorter College in beautiful Rome, Georgia.
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2 Responses to Beowulf at Chick-Fil-A

  1. Karissa Stewart says:

    Beowulf discussions at Chicken Fil A should inspire the appetite. This situation saddens me and is food for thought. I think students have a strong distaste for Beowulf because they feel detached from the text. Thus, it has no real meaning. I strongly agree with your thoughts on incorporating Heaney and using a translation that is suitable for the vernacular (and agreeable in referencing the history). Also, I believe reading aloud is constructive and appropriate for loving the story. Or watching a video performance of scholarly merit, as you demonstrated last semester, where one engages in the storytelling. Lastly, Berry and Shorter may be rivals, but learning is about community. Something Martha Berry liberally laid out in the lawn grass there. Strongly faculty mowed, but its not contained in the vast growing land. The rival is about superiority. The student make-up contains: Cobb County, Birmingham, and non-loved boarding school kids. The types of families have Old money, are Bobos, and some just straight-up rich. Mixed with the studious less fortunate, but talented scholarship kids. Oddly, the students you probably encountered were tired of Valhalla, part of Krannert Center (Shorter’s equivalent FSU). Valhalla is an over priced gas station style snack center that is combined with grill favorites, Mexican, Japanese Sushi, and Bistro buzz. Chick-Fil-A is brought over on Tuesday. (Your card deducts your bucks). It connects to a mall style food court equipped with booth seating, coffee style tables, and tvs. The lower part is a computer-connected environment with these weird plastered keyboard maps. It flows into Starbucks. In any case, superiority and attitude comes from the Berry bubble. Students literally have some parts of the world brought to them. As the price of being special and self-absorbed, is part of the luxury of being able to afford Buckhead Berry. Everything comes at a cost.

  2. cindy turner says:

    Karissa Stewart: “Also, I believe reading aloud is constructive and appropriate for loving the story.”

    this is precisely the way my kids first absorbed ‘Beowulf.’ i read it to them, stopping often to explain what they were hearing. in fact, i read it to erin and julie walton when they were in 10th grade, as they were totally confused by it, and i thought it a waste of their time to tackle it by themselves.
    as a family, we have watched many movie versions ourselves–eager to see which may come close to accurately following the tale.
    do you think this has anything to do with two of my four kids, thus far, attaining English degrees? haha

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