Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Beowulf: Prince of the Geats, Popular Medievalism, and You

Cinerati friend, and Medieval Scholar, Professor Richard Scott Nokes of Troy University (the other Trojans) has post today where he discusses an editorial dilemma faced by a scholarly publication when they were deciding how to publish his paper "Beowulf: Prince of the Geats, Nazis, and Odinists." His article touches upon why the study of popular medievalism is a vital component of any serious scholarship regarding Medieval literature. His paper begins with a discussion of how important Beowulf -- the poem -- has been to various groups for the purposes of national identity, and posits that scholars (and I'm reading a little into Dr. Nokes' words here) need to be able to look at their valued literary artifacts from outside the ivory tower and take seriously popular uses, and misuses, of their beloved tomes.

Professor Nokes' discussion of the moral dilemma the publication faced, and the paper itelf, are worth your time. Stop over and give them a read.

Speaking of worthy reads/plays, here is a glimpse at some of the items Cinerati thinks belong in everyone's "popular medieval" library/game room.

Fantasy Flight Games' Beowulf: The Legend, is an excellent game that mechanically attempts to emulate the rhythm of an epic poem.

I have always enjoyed the TSR Minigames SAGA and VIKING GODS. It should be noted that if you choose to play the Aesir in VIKING GODS, your chances for victory are very slim. The game is very fun, but you must go in with the proper sense of doom. Hela is no ally to the Aesir in this game.

I also enjoy RAGNAROK by SPI, a game that was originally published in an issue of Ares magazine. The Aesir aren't nearly as doomed in the game, so you don't need to be as fatalistic when you begin play.

Over the past two years, White Wolf Publishing released their excellent Scion role playing game. In the game, the players assume the roles of the descendants of ancient gods who have been at war with the Titans for millenia. While the premise of gods versus titans leaps straight from Greek mythology, the game assumes that many pantheons are participating in the same struggle. Naturally, the Giants and other monstrosities from Norse legend fit perfectly within this paradigm and the players can play the Scion's of Thor, Odin, Tyr, or even Loki. The game was originally planned to be three books, which contained a campaign where the players progress from Hero to Demi-God to one of the Gods in the struggle against the Titans.

The success of the Scion title led White Wolf to publish a companion, with more pantheons, and an alternate campaign book entitled Ragnarök. We here at Cinerati cannot wait to play in a Ragnarök game. Ever since hearing tales of our friend Roger Frederick's modern day Ragnarök campaign in the early 90s/late 80s (it used the GURPS Supers system), we have been on the lookout for a well constructed offering that approached the quality hinted at by Roger's players. Sadly, Roger wasn't a part of the writing of this project, but it is an excellent read.

As an aside, I have always wondered if the Völuspá was operating at the behest of Odin in order to fool the giants into thinking they would eventually win in their struggle against the Aesir and Vanir. By giving them a "prophecy" where the trickster betrays the gods in favor of the giants, Odin delays the war and increases the tenants of Valhalla. It would be a grand trick indeed if the Völuspá were a lie.
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