Sorry I haven’t added to this – I spent three hours in traffic last night, followed by shoveling snow at home, then I decided to eat. I was kinda tired.
During this break, I’d like to observe that I googled “Grinch” and “Beowulf” together, and got a lot of hits. I’m certainly not the first to connect the Dr. Seuss story with the Old English epic. I notice, though, that these are all relatively recent posts, dated from 2009 or later.
I’d like to suggest that the inspiration for all of these light bulbs going off linking the two stories are due to the 2007 Robert Zemeckis film – the one with the CGI that is so close to photography that it sometimes resembles the heavily rotoscoped parts of the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings. I really liked this film a lot, and that’s largely due to its intelligent and interesting variation on the original, through the sc ript by Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman. One of the things the script emphasized was how Grendel was driven to attack Heorot because of the noise of the celebration there*. In fact, in interviews the filmmakers stated that their design of the creature Grendel was to emphasize that he was a creature of pain. Beowulf also is able to defeat Grendel by playing on his sensitivity to noise, hitt8ing his ears, and ultimately, he shrinks from the assault. I can’t think of any other interpretation of the poem that made such a big deal about this aspect of Grendel’s makeup. You might think that Avary and Gaiman made it up – but it’s there, in the original poem. With that sort of emphasis, the fact that Grendel was piercingly agonized by the noise was made really clear for, I think, the first time.
And, of course, the Grinch 's main complaint about the Whos is the noise, as well. Again, it’s clear in the original poem, but it was the Chuck Jones cartoon adaptation that made this REALLY clear, with an extended section on the noises that the Who children made that was NOT in the original book (Seuss wrote the new lines himself for the TV special), and with animated vignettes of the children playing with exceptionally noisy toys, with accompanying sound track, all culminating in the image of the Grinch’s head being played like a drum, with two padded tympani sticks beating on his ears.
He complains about the singing, too, but you just KNOW that it’s the damned noisy toys that set him off.
So, in both the case of the Grinch and of Grendel, you have a literally animated adaptation that emphasized the role of the noise of the village assaulting the ears of the lonely hermit monster. Visual stories make a deeper impression. I know that in my case it was this Assault By Noise that suggested the similarities of the two stories. I submit that it was the same for those other observers. Some of them have actually pointed to this obsession with noise to make their case.
it’s interesting, by the way, that this interest in Beowulf and Grendel seems so recent. It didn’t used to be this way. It’s true that the epic has been a part of lityerature for a long time, and that it got new life from Tolkien’s speech (later rendered as an article “Beowulf and the Critics”, issued LONG before his fiction became popular with the general public. But it was still relatively obscure, lurking in the darkness of pop consciousness, like a lake monster. My middle-school-level reader had an excerpt from it, but there were no adaptations of the story. No movies or TV specials. It was absent from Bulfinch and from Hamilton’s mythology. There were no Little Golden Books of Beowulf, or Classics Illustrated adaptations. During an era when pop novelists were adapting mythology for “serious” novels, this story was notably absent. It wasn’t until the 1970s that it showed up in pop culture, with John Gardner’s Grendel (which actually got turned into an animated film. Which I’ve never seen) and Michael Crichton’s The Eaters of the Dead. But then it went dormant again.
But in the past 15 years there’s been a Beowulf renaissance. There was the weird Christopher Lampert Beowulf (from which I think the Zemeckis film cribbed some important stuff) and the Science Fiction channel’s Grendel and the Michael Crichton film, adapting his book, but wisely renamed The 13th Warrior, and the Iceland-filmed Gerard Butler film Beowulf and Grendel, and the Science Fiction version Outlander (which owes nothing to Diana Gabaldon’s books, but a little, I think, to Niven et al’s Legacy of Heorot), and the History Channel’s Clash of the gods episode on Beowulf, in addition to the Zemeckis film. There’s also another shoestring budget adaptation that came out recently, but which I haven’t seen.
Why all this recent interest, I do not know. The Zemeckis film didn’t start it, but was part of the trend. Maybe filmmakers are casting a wider net for source material, and this one just came up simultaneously in several radars.
More pseudo-Seuss tonight.
*It’s not that he’s driven by hatred of Civilization or of the comradeship suggested by the noise, as some commentators have suggested. Grendel is oppressed by the bnoise itself.