[Milton-L] Great Adaptations

Beth Quitslund quitslun at ohio.edu
Mon Jan 21 20:10:46 EST 2008


I have to admit that I shared Hannibal's fury at this essay, in part because 
its definition of "readable" seems so impoverished. Yes, _Beowulf_ is 
unreadable to most Americans and Brits in the original; so is Camus's 
_L'Etranger_. That's why we have translations of literary works in other 
languages. And while _Paradise Lost_ is difficult, a great many otherwise 
quite normal people who do work through it find it well worth the trouble (as 
all of us who teach the poem know). In addition, the idea that these works are 
somehow too hard or too foreign in their original forms seems to me the very 
weakest argument for reading or watching "adaptations." Imitation, parody, and 
other close responses make up a great deal of the Western literary tradition 
(e.g., PL and its relationship to Virgil, let alone Genesis and the rest of 
the biblical canon), but it would be silly to argue that Milton thought that 
the Holy Ghost was a little too old-fashioned. The worth of the adaptation is 
not in whether it compensates for an inaccessible original but in whether it 
says something interesting in an interesting way, including among other things 
(but only among other things) whether it makes us see something new in its 
inspiring source. The idea that we have to justify adaptations by appealing to 
illiteracy, however, is more than a little appalling. 

Beth Quitslund




Quoting Horace Jeffery Hodges <jefferyhodges at yahoo.com>:

> --0-1367125074-1200960540=:40388
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1
> Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit
> 
> I didn't have quite the negative reaction as Professor Hamlin. Taken
> in context, Professor Gee's remarks on Beowulf and Paradise Lost as
> unreadable are more understandable:
>    
>   "The unpalatable truth is that both originals are now virtually
> unreadable. 'Beowulf' is written in Old English, an inflected
> Germanic tongue that looks a lot less like our language than one
> would hope. As for Milton¡¯s epic, it's in 'normal' English, but its
> blank verse is so densely learned, so syntactically complicated and
> philosophically obscure, that it's almost never read outside college
> courses."
>    
>   I also didn't find Gee say that the original stories had been
> improved on, but perhaps I missed that statement.
>    
>   I did find her express admiration for the re-reading of Beowulf in
> the recent film version, but I also found that one point admirable.
> The link established between the two monster sections of the poem is
> intriguing, as also is the concommitant deconstructive interpretation
> employing a hermeneutic of suspicion to Beowulf's boasting. The
> Anglo-Saxon culture was a shame-and-honor one, and the suspicion that
> honor would trump veracity is plausible to me.
>    
>   Aside from that one point, however, I thought the Beowulf movie a
> failure.
>    
>   I haven't seen the film adaption of the first volume in Pullman's
> trilogy, so I can't comment on that, but I found the series
> disappointing. I read the first volume with great excitement but lost
> interest as I read the second and third volumes. Pullman's style is
> lovely, and his characters feel real, but the story failed for me,
> partly because it's so polemically didactic. A more subtle critique
> of religion would have worked better, in my opinion
>    
>   Jeffery Hodges
> 
> HANNIBAL HAMLIN <hamlin.22 at osu.edu> wrote:
>     No reflection on Tim, of course, but this is an extremely
> irritating, and, to my mind, foolish article.  All the more
> disturbing in that it is written by someone who apparently teaches
> Milton, and perhaps also Beowulf.  I am a great fan of Philip
> Pullman, but his novels are hardly an "improvement" on Milton,
> however smart and enjoyable they are.  They are, for one thing,
> children's books, in an entirely different literary genre altogether,
> and therefore subject (to a large degree) to different standards and
> categories of judgment.  The movie of the first book, as Gee
> acknowledges, is a failure.  As for Beowulf, I have not, I confess,
> seen the film, but from all I have heard, including Gee's account, it
> sounds quite simple-minded, if also perhaps some empty-headed fun. 
> However, to call it an improvement on the original is, again,
> foolish.  It sounds as if the film has been made to sympathize with
> contemporary American values and expecta tions (about women, for
> instance,
>  Freudian psychology or models of flawed anti-heroism), but it also
> sounds as if most of what makes the Anglo-Saxon poem powerful and
> moving has been excised.  Getting back to Paradise Lost, I'm sure
> members of this list will feel as annoyed as I do with a university
> English professor who calls the poem "unreadable."  Beowulf may be
> unreadable, if only in the sense that few now know Anglo-Saxon, but I
> have been impressed everytime I have taught Milton at how keenly
> undergraduates read him.  Even students who don't finally like Milton
> or the ideas he seems to express (in thier view) are excited by the
> experience of reading him, especially Paradise Lost.  Philip Pullman
> obviously found Milton exciting, otherwise he wouldn't have borrowed
> so largely from him as he did (along with Blake, or Milton filtered
> through Blake perhaps).  Furthermore, having taught courses on film
> and literature a number of times, I have to s ay I have found very
> few cases where the film version was a
>  significant improvement on its literary original.  I make no
> sweeping theoretical generalizations based on this, but it is
> nonetheless (I think) true.  (One of the few exceptions is The Wizard
> of Oz, and there are some cases where film and book are both good, as
> in Altman's Short Cuts.)  On the matter of popular culture more
> broadly, the problem with popular adaptations of classics is that
> they tend to involve a dumbing down or flattening out.  This is
> inevitable if a work is designed to appeal to mass audiences, for one
> thing since mass audiences tend not to want to think too hard about
> what they are watching or reading.  
>   Apologies for venting, but I had some steam built up after reading
> this article the first time.  Perhaps others will feel encouraged to
> vent, or cross-vent, in turn!
>   Hannibal
>   
> 
> Hannibal Hamlin 
> Associate Professor of English 
> The Ohio State University 
> Book Review Editor and Associate Editor, Reformation 
> 
> Mailing Address (2007-2009): 
> 
> The Folger Shakespeare Library 
> 201 East Capitol Street SE 
> Washington, DC 20003 
> 
> Permanent Address: 
> 
> Department of English 
> The Ohio State University 
> 421 Denney Hall, 164 W. 17th Avenue 
> Columbus, OH 43210-1340
> 
> 
> Content-Type: multipart/alternative;
> boundary="----=_NextPart_000_0101_01C85C29.FDC611D0"
> ------=_NextPart_000_0101_01C85C29.FDC611D0 Content-Type: text/plain;
> charset="iso-8859-1" Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable
> Content-Disposition: inline My apologies if this has been posted here
> already: -- Tim BOOKS / SUNDAY BOOK REVIEW | January 13, 2008=20
> Essay: Great Adaptations=20 By SOPHIE GEE=20 Instead of dumbing down
> the classics, mass-market popularizations sometimes= make them even
> better. [...] --=20 BEGIN-ANTISPAM-VOTING-LINKS
> ------------------------------------------------------ Teach CanIt if
> this mail (ID 522090935) is spam: Spam:
> https://antispam.osu.edu/b.php?c=3Ds&i=3D522090935&m=3D43ff7a9= 0dff4
> Not spam:
> https://antispam.osu.edu/b.php?c=3Dn&i=3D522090935&m=3D43ff7a9= 0dff4
> Forget vote:
> https://antispam.osu.edu/b.php?c=3Df&i=3D522090935&m=3D43ff7a9= 0dff4
> ------------------------------------------------------
> END-ANTISPAM-VOTING-LINKS
>  ------=_NextPart_000_0101_01C85C29.FDC611D0 Content-Type: text/html;
> charset="iso-8859-1" Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable
> Content-Disposition: inline         My apologie= s if this=20 has
> been posted here already:     -- Tim
>    
>   &nbs= p;
>   BOOKS / SUNDAY BOOK REVIEW   = | January 13= ,=20 2008 
> Essay:  Great Adaptations=20 
> By SOPHIE GEE 
> 
> Instead of dumbing dow= n the=20 classics, mass-market
> popularizations sometimes make them even better.=20 [...]
> 
>     
> ---------------------------------
>   
> Spam
> Not spam
> Forget previous vote
> 
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> 
> University Degrees:
> 
> Ph.D., History, U.C. Berkeley
> (Doctoral Thesis: "Food as Synecdoche in John's Gospel and Gnostic
> Texts")
> M.A., History of Science, U.C. Berkeley
> B.A., English Language and Literature, Baylor University
> 
> Email Address:
> 
> jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
> 
> Blog:
> 
> http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com/
> 
> Office Address:
> 
> Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges
> School of English, Kyung Hee University
> 1 Hoegi-dong, Dongdaemun-gu
> Seoul, 130-701
> South Korea
> 
> Home Address:
> 
> Dr. Sun-Ae Hwang and Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges
> Gunyoung Apt. 102-204
> Sangbong-dong 1
> Jungnang-gu
> Seoul 131-771
> South Korea
> --0-1367125074-1200960540=:40388
> Content-Type: text/html; charset=iso-8859-1
> Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit
> 
> <div>I didn't have quite the negative reaction as Professor Hamlin.
> Taken in context, Professor Gee's remarks on <EM>Beowulf</EM> and
> <EM>Paradise Lost</EM>&nbsp;as unreadable are more
> understandable:</div>  <div>&nbsp;</div>  <div>"The unpalatable truth
> is that both originals are now virtually unreadable. 'Beowulf' is
> written in Old English, an inflected Germanic tongue that looks a lot
> less like our language than one would hope. As for Milton¡¯s epic,
> it's in 'normal' English, but its blank verse is so densely learned,
> so syntactically complicated and philosophically obscure, that it's
> almost never read outside college courses."</div>  <div>&nbsp;</div> 
> <div>I also didn't find Gee say that&nbsp;the original stories had
> been&nbsp;improved on, but perhaps I missed that statement.</div> 
> <div>&nbsp;</div>  <div>I did find her express admiration for the
> re-reading of <EM>Beowulf</EM> in the recent film version, but I also
> found that one point admirable. The link established
>  between the two monster sections of the poem is intriguing, as also
> is the concommitant deconstructive interpretation employing a
> hermeneutic of suspicion to Beowulf's <EM>boasting</EM>. The
> Anglo-Saxon culture was a shame-and-honor one, and the suspicion that
> honor would trump veracity is plausible to me.</div> 
> <div>&nbsp;</div>  <div>Aside from that one point, however,&nbsp;I
> thought the Beowulf movie a failure.</div>  <div>&nbsp;</div>  <div>I
> haven't seen the film adaption of the first volume in Pullman's
> trilogy, so I can't comment on that, but I&nbsp;found the series
> disappointing. I read the first volume with great excitement but lost
> interest as I read the second and third volumes. Pullman's style is
> lovely, and his characters feel real, but the story failed for me,
> partly because it's so polemically didactic. A more subtle critique
> of religion would have worked better, in my opinion</div> 
> <div>&nbsp;</div>  <div>Jeffery Hodges<BR><BR><B><I>HANNIBAL HAMLIN
>  &lt;hamlin.22 at osu.edu&gt;</I></B> wrote:</div>  <BLOCKQUOTE
> class=replbq style="PADDING-LEFT: 5px; MARGIN-LEFT: 5px; BORDER-LEFT:
> #1010ff 2px solid">  <div>No reflection on Tim, of course,&nbsp;but
> this is an extremely irritating, and, to my mind, foolish
> article.&nbsp; All the more disturbing in that it is written by
> someone who apparently teaches Milton, and perhaps also
> Beowulf.&nbsp; I am a great fan of Philip Pullman, but his novels are
> hardly an "improvement" on Milton, however smart and enjoyable they
> are.&nbsp; They are, for one thing, children's books, in an entirely
> different literary genre altogether, and therefore subject (to a
> large degree) to different standards and categories of
> judgment.&nbsp; The movie of the first book, as Gee acknowledges, is
> a failure.&nbsp; As for Beowulf, I have not, I confess, seen the
> film, but from all I have heard, including Gee's account, it sounds
> quite simple-minded, if also perhaps some empty-headed fun.&nbsp;
> However, to call
>  it an improvement on the original is, again, foolish.&nbsp; It
> sounds as if the film has been made to sympathize with contemporary
> American values and expecta tions (about women, for instance,
> Freudian psychology or models of flawed anti-heroism), but it also
> sounds as if most of what makes the Anglo-Saxon poem powerful and
> moving has been excised.&nbsp;&nbsp;Getting back to Paradise Lost,
> I'm sure members of this list will feel as annoyed as I do with a
> university English professor who calls the poem "unreadable."&nbsp;
> Beowulf may be unreadable, if only in the sense that few now know
> Anglo-Saxon, but I have been impressed everytime I have taught Milton
> at how keenly undergraduates read him.&nbsp; Even students who don't
> finally like Milton or the ideas he seems to express (in thier view)
> are excited by the experience of reading him, especially Paradise
> Lost.&nbsp; Philip Pullman obviously found Milton exciting, otherwise
> he wouldn't have borrowed so largely from him as
>  he did (along with Blake, or Milton filtered through Blake
> perhaps).&nbsp; Furthermore, having taught courses on film and
> literature a number of times, I have to s ay I have found very few
> cases where the film version was a significant improvement on its
> literary original.&nbsp; I&nbsp;make no sweeping theoretical
> generalizations based on this, but it is nonetheless (I think)
> true.&nbsp; (One of the few exceptions is The Wizard of Oz, and there
> are some cases where film and book are both good, as in Altman's
> Short Cuts.)&nbsp; On the matter of popular culture more broadly, the
> problem with popular adaptations of classics is that they tend to
> involve a dumbing down or flattening out.&nbsp; This is inevitable if
> a work is designed to appeal to mass audiences, for one thing since
> mass audiences tend not to want to think too hard about what they are
> watching or reading.&nbsp; </div>  <div>Apologies for venting, but I
> had some steam built up after reading this article the first
>  time.&nbsp; Perhaps others will feel encouraged to vent, or
> cross-vent, in turn!</div>  <div>Hannibal</div> 
> <div><BR><BR>Hannibal Hamlin <BR>Associate Professor of English
> <BR>The Ohio State University <BR>Book Review Editor and Associate
> Editor, Reformation <BR><BR>Mailing Address (2007-2009): <BR><BR>The
> Folger Shakespeare Library <BR>201 East Capitol Street SE
> <BR>Washington, DC 20003 <BR><BR>Permanent Address:
> <BR><BR>Department of English <BR>The Ohio State University <BR>421
> Denney Hall, 164 W. 17th Avenue <BR>Columbus, OH
> 43210-1340<BR><BR></div>Content-Type: multipart/alternative;
> boundary="----=_NextPart_000_0101_01C85C29.FDC611D0"
> ------=_NextPart_000_0101_01C85C29.FDC611D0 Content-Type: text/plain;
> charset="iso-8859-1" Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable
> Content-Disposition: inline My apologies if this has been posted here
> already: -- Tim BOOKS / SUNDAY BOOK REVIEW | January 13, 2008=20
> Essay: Great Adaptations=20 By SOPHIE GEE=20 Instead of dumbing
>  down the classics, mass-market popularizations sometimes= make them
> even better. [...] --=20 BEGIN-ANTISPAM-VOTING-LINKS
> ------------------------------------------------------ Teach CanIt if
> this mail (ID 522090935) is spam: Spam:
> https://antispam.osu.edu/b.php?c=3Ds&amp;i=3D522090935&amp;m=3D43ff7a9=
> 0dff4 Not spam:
> https://antispam.osu.edu/b.php?c=3Dn&amp;i=3D522090935&amp;m=3D43ff7a9=
> 0dff4 Forget vote:
> https://antispam.osu.edu/b.php?c=3Df&amp;i=3D522090935&amp;m=3D43ff7a9=
> 0dff4 ------------------------------------------------------
> END-ANTISPAM-VOTING-LINKS ------=_NextPart_000_0101_01C85C29.FDC611D0
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> Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable Content-Disposition:
> inline   <META content='3D"MSHTML' name=3DGENERATOR 6.00.6000.16587?>
>  <STYLE></STYLE>    <DIV><FONT face='3D"Times' color=#3d0000
> Roman,Times,Serif? New>My apologie= s if this=20 has been posted here
> already:&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; -- Tim</FONT></DIV> 
>  <DIV>&nbsp;</DIV>  <DIV><FONT face='3D"Times' color=#3d0000
> Roman,Times,Serif? New></FONT>&amp;nbs= p;</DIV>  <DIV><FONT
> face='3D"Times' color=#3d0000 Roman,Times,Serif? New><STRONG><FO=
> size="3D2" color="3D#666666" NT="20">BOOKS / SUNDAY BOOK REVIEW
> </FONT></STRONG>&nbsp; = <FONT=20 Roman,Times,Serif? New size="3D-1"
> color="3D#000000" face='3D"Times'>| January 13= ,=20 2008</FONT>
> <BR><FONT face='3D"Times' color=#3d0060 size=3 Roman,Times,Serif? New
> ="20"><STRONG><A=20 rel="3Dnofollow" target="3D_blank" 1?="20"
> href='3D"http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/books/review/Gee-t.html?
emc=3Deta='>Essay:&nbsp;
> Great Adaptations=20 </A></STRONG></FONT><BR><FONT face='3D"Times'
> color=#3d0 size=3 Roman,Times,Serif? New #000000="20">By SOPHIE
> GEE</FONT> <FONT size=3><BR></FONT><BR><FONT=20 Roman,Times,Serif?
> New color="3D#000000" face='3D"Times'>Instead of dumbing dow= n
> the=20 classics, mass-market popularizations sometimes make them even
> better.=20 [...]<BR></FONT></DIV></FONT><!--
>  BEGIN-ANTISPAM-VOTING-LINKS -->  <DIV><SPAN inline? display: white;
> background-color: normal; fo="nt-weight:" font-style: black; color:
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c=3Ds&amp;i=3D522090935&amp;m=3D43ff7a90d='
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l_______________________________________________<BR>Milton-L
> mailing
>  list<BR>Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu<BR>Manage your list membership
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l</BLOCKQUOTE><BR><BR><BR>University
> Degrees:<br><br>Ph.D., History, U.C. Berkeley<br>(Doctoral Thesis:
> "Food as Synecdoche in John's Gospel and Gnostic Texts")<br>M.A.,
> History of Science, U.C. Berkeley<br>B.A., English Language and
> Literature, Baylor University<br><br>Email
> 
Address:<br><br>jefferyhodges at yahoo.com<br><br>Blog:<br><br>http://gypsyscholar
ship.blogspot.com/<br><br>Office
> Address:<br><br>Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges<br>School
> of English, Kyung Hee University<br>1 Hoegi-dong,
> Dongdaemun-gu<br>Seoul, 130-701<br>South Korea<br><br>Home
> Address:<br><br>Dr. Sun-Ae Hwang and Dr. Horace Jeffery
> Hodges<br>Gunyoung Apt. 102-204<br>Sangbong-dong
> 1<br>Jungnang-gu<br>Seoul 131-771<br>South Korea
> --0-1367125074-1200960540=:40388--
> 



***************************************

Beth Quitslund
Assistant Professor
Dept. of English
Ohio University
Athens, OH  45701

phone: (740) 593-2829
FAX: (740) 593-2818


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