Beat those trees

I’m writing in response to Ken Hanke’s side-splitting review [Nov. 20 Xpress] of Robert Zemeckis’ new film Beowulf. While I have no bones to pick with his panning of this latest Hollywood blockbuster, I would like to clarify a point in defense of the original Beowulf.

Mr. Hanke writes: “As far as I’m concerned Beowulf is one of those literary creations that boasts little actual merit beyond the fact that it’s very, very, very old—even the very origin of literature. That rates a big so what? Music started out with folks beating on hollow trees with bones, but that doesn’t mean I want to listen to it. … The best I can say for (the movie) is that it beats actually reading the original.”

However, Mr. Hanke’s, and most of our English teachers’ Beowulf is far from the original and further still from the origin of literature. The extant 11th-century manuscript was copied down perhaps as much as 500 years after the story was written. “[T]he story has its roots in the art of the scop (‘creator’), the bardic storyteller and reciter at formal and informal gatherings, whose services were essential to the fabric of tribal society in early medieval England. … The scop would re-tell the story of Beowulf, in song and speech, perhaps accompanying himself on a six-stringed harp. … The performance … would never be exactly the same twice.” (

Like Mr. Hanke, most of us have perhaps never had the opportunity to witness Beowulf “in the original” and judge for ourselves. I would invite Mr. Hanke to come and attend the authentic and world-class performance of the original, coming to Asheville next January as part of our upcoming festival of “folks beating on hollow trees with bones.”

— Eric Scheider
Echo Early Music Festival

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