Beowulf: The Canonization of Anglo-Saxon Literature into Modern Popular Culture

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The cover of the November, 1975 comic book "Beowulf: Dragon Slayer" features a red-haired, horn-helmeted Beowulf swinging a large broadsword at a purple-caped villain also bearing two razor-sharp swords. As Beowulf rears up on his steed, a bikini clad woman, cloth slightly aside to reveal the shadow of a buttock is drawn falling, face filled with terror. In the background, a rising full moon and silhouetted gothic castle keenly set an atmosphere of dread and foreboding. Above the emboldened title of the comic book reads in smaller letters, "Beowulf: First and Greatest Hero of Them All!" Text in the bottom-left corner gives the juicy hook for this edition: "Beowulf Meets Dracula." Despite over eight hundred years of literary separation, English literature's earliest known epic hero gallantly faces off against its biggest villain.1 While the idea of Beowulf and Dracula facing off mano-a-mano is hardly surprising to today's postmodern readers, the combination of the disparate elements on the comic represents something larger than the story arc itself: the canonization of Anglo-Saxon literature into modern popular culture. Through the use of Beowulf as a bridge between the educational and the pleasurable, the comic's creators were able to overcome social anxieties which faced medieval English literature. Dracula had long before been a staple of popular culture, from movies portrayals an erotically charged gentleman to a cartoon caricature hawking sugar cereal. Meanwhile, for years Beowulf and the Geats had been trapped in that least cool place of literature: academia. Writer Michael Uslan anticipates this problem in "Beowulf: An Epic Comes Home," an epilogue to the first issue of "Beowulf: Dragon Slayer:"BEO... ... middle of paper ... ...nto popular culture. Meanwhile, the contemporary anxieties over violence and homosocial relationships in comic books necessitated changes from similar aspects in comitatus order to reach the mainstream. Uslan and Villamonte balance out the popular and the academic with respect to Anglo-Saxon culture by stretching the Beowulf poem to fit a multi-faceted mainstream audience. Old English words are kept because of their educational value, which lends acceptance to the more violent scenes portrayed in the comic. Meanwhile, the gory monsters and celebrated "REAL LIVE action and adventure" make the learning of the same words less distasteful to adolescent readers. In short, Uslan and Villamonte bring their interpretation of Beowulf into the popular sphere through working at comforting social anxieties over the entertainment value and safety of Anglo-Saxon literature.

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