What Is Classic Remarks?
Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.
How Can I Participate?
Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!
(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)
This Week’s Prompt:
What classic did you read in school and end up loving?
Medieval literature is not exactly widely read by the general public. Perhaps it is too far removed from the everyday to seem relevant. Perhaps people fear it will be difficult to read or understand because it is so old. However, I have a special fondness for medieval literature–and it began in high school.
While medieval literature is not, as a rule, widely taught in U. S. high schools, Beowulf usually is. An anonymous alliterative poem written in Old English, Beowulf does not seem like the type of literary work poised to become widely beloved. And yet, the tale immediately captured me with its mystery, its sense of magic, its wonder. In many ways, if you think about it, Beowulf, the story of a hero who fights monsters with his bare hands and slays dragons in his old age, is simply one of the earliest extant example of fantasy we have in English. I love dragons! So, of course, I love Beowulf.
Beowulf, however, enchants me with more than its monsters. I am also fascinated by the interplay between Beowulf’s pagan beliefs and the writer’s Christian beliefs. There is something bittersweet about the story, with Beowulf desperately trying to live on in the only way he believes he can–through achieving lasting fame–especially when it combines with the reader’s knowledge that Christianity will come and Beowulf’s time, with all its glory and honor and dragons will fade away. Beowulf is not a typical fantasy because it ends sadly, with a sense of foreboding doom. It is, however, the type of story that stays with you.
Required reading in schools can often get a bad reputation, with opponents arguing that old books do not speak to today’s youth and should be replaced with contemporary titles. However, required reading in schools introduced me to many works I may not have picked up by myself–and it taught me to love them. Beowulf remains a favorite story of mine to this day. I don’t need to be a 6th-century Scandinavian warrior to appreciate it.
What about you? Have you read Beowulf? And what books did you learn to love in school?