…or a whole slew of other medieval poems.

Via Neil Gaiman’s blog, comes a link to the ChildCare Action Project: Christian Analysis of American Culture’s review of the Beowulf movie, which is, according to them, “quite probably the most heinous culprit for stealing childhood from children ever made.”

Beowulf the movie, based on the epic poem of the same name, is quite probably the most heinous culprit for stealing childhood from children ever made. It does seem rather reaching to say the parent poem (text) presents nudity. I have read lots of poems but never have I seen nudity in a poem. Even the nudity in some Bibles was not there when the inspired pen was put to paper; man put nudity in the Bible, not God. That some church approved nakedness in the Bible does not make it acceptable to God. Indeed God speaks darkly and shamefully of nakedness (the display of nudity) more than 40 times from the Old Testament to the New Testament. His Word even advised preists not to build an altar with steps lest the wind expose their nakedness to the people below [Ex. 20:26].

But then, of course, unlike a movie, which is a visual medium, one doesn’t “see” the events of poem, so one could argue that I haven’t seen nudity in The Canterbury Tales, or Marie de France’s “Bisclavret,” or in any number of fabliaux.

While the reviewer explains that “Art is not sin and sin is not art. But art becomes sin when art uses sin,” after reading the various complaints against the movie, I can’t help but wonder if the poem itself would be considered sinful. For instance, listed as objectionable (sinful) are the murders in the film:

In one case Grendel murders one of Beowulf’s men by biting off and chewing the man’s head. Chewing, crunching and slurping are heard as the demon eats the man’s head. Grendel murders another man by crushing the man’s head between his hands. All in all, all of Beowulf’s men except one, as much as I could tell, are murdered by Grendel.

We’ll ignore the fact that this reviewer, who is applying the “objective tools” of the CAP system, gets a number of facts wrong about the movie, such as that it is not  Grendel but Grendel’s mother who kills off most of Beowulf’s men in the movie. (Okay, so I’m not ignoring it.) All I’m saying is that if the reviewer nods from time to time, as this reviewer seems to do, then we can’t assume that they’ve applied their objective tools accurately. That aside, I’m still not sure they’d approve of the poem because among the movies other sins are:

Drunken revelry and drinking abound nearly as much as the nudity.

Granted that there’s more nudity than the poem implies, drinking and drunken revelry are part of the poem. And then there’s this:

An unholy demon, a witch/dragon, [Eph. 4:27] praising and praying to the false god Odin [Ex. 20:3], faith in false gods [Jer. 13:25] and evil power saturate the film as well.

The unholy demon referred to here is, I assume, Grendel, and technically I could call this a problem with the review because the movie clearly identifies Grendel as a troll. My point, however, is that Grendel is presented as monstrous if not demonic, in the poem as well as the movie. More disturbing is their conflation of the witch and the dragon. Maybe they were confused by my pre-viewing speculation that Grendel’s mother was the dragon? If so, I was wrong, so this is again one of those times I have to wonder if the reviewer was really paying attention. That said, again, the existence of both Grendel’s mother and the dragon seem to be what’s objectionable, meaning that the poem’s got problems, to say nothing of the praising, praying, and faith in false gods. While the poem doesn’t use Odin’s name, the characters of the poem are pagans (even if they’re virtuous ones), and some of them even worship of false gods.

Why should I (we) care what CAP has to say about Beowulf? It’s of concern, I think, because, as they explain,

Dr. Karen Nelson, psychology department head of a top ten university and Dr. Larry Gilliam, a practicing mental health counselor with three doctorate degrees each agree with me that it would be unusual for even a 16 year old child to be able to fully separate fantasy from reality or to be able to fully anticipate the consequences of his/her actions. By no fault of their own young teens typically do not yet possess such experiential maturity. Such skills do not typically platuea until the early 20s which is why teens are not typically permitted to hold a job of high liability, risk or consequence. Yet we feed teens (and younger) with stuff like Beowulf. [Ps. 12:8]

Teenagers, and most traditionally-aged college students are reality-challenged, and exposing them to fictional works is potentially harmful. Just as I and tens of thousands of other teenagers who played Dungeons and Dragons murdered our best friends and families before killing ourselves when we failed to tell the difference between the game and reality, millions of teenagers might take their clothes off, have sex with demons, and kill dragons if they see Beowulf. And we should all care because it’s not all that much of a stretch to go from attacking this movie with their system to attacking a whole lot of literature. Oh, wait, people like them are already doing that, aren’t they?

Lest I or Neil Gaiman come across as attacking religion or religious reviewers, I’ll also point to two more reviews Gaiman shared in the same post: a review in Christianity Today and a review from the Catholic News Service.