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Notre Dame Expert: "Beowulf" movie proof of epic poem's lasting power

Author: Arts and Letters


The digitally-rendered cinematic translation of “Beowulf,” one of the oldest surviving poems in the English language, points to the epic’s timeless themes of heroic adventure and its moving portrayal of both glory and the cost of heroism, says University of Notre Dame English Professor Katherine O’Brien-O’Keeffe, who specializes in Old English language and literature.

“We ought hardly be surprised that such a rich and always surprising work of art such as `Beowulf’ should generate numerous creative responses,” says O’Brien-O’Keeffe.

“But creative responses are never ‘faithful’ – they are conversations, acts of homage or rebellions. However solemn – or silly – the forthcoming “Beowulf” movie may be, it is simply positioning itself as another creative response, this time in 3-D digital special effects."

Even after more than a century of scholarship on the poem, contemporary scholars still cannot agree on the poem’s date, and it continues to be the subject of contemporary critical interest.

But instead of buying into some of the film’s advance publicity that attempts to position the “Beowulf” movie as a teaching tool or an opportunity to introduce students to a literary classic, O’Brien-O’Keeffe considers the movie to be fan fiction – in the realm of “Harry Potter” or the countless “Star Trek” episodes.

“‘Beowulf’ the movie may bring some of us to laughter or tears, but it is certainly a welcome indication that the epic poem is alive and well in the 21st century.”

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, “Beowulf” opens nationwide on Friday (November 16).

Media Advisory: O’Brien-O’Keeffe’s comments may be used in whole or in part. She can be reached for further comment at 574-631-4702 or Katherine.O.O’ .

Originally published by Susan Guibert at on November 14, 2007.