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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Guy Goodman St.White Reviews Judith--Speculative Nonsense

Pictured: NOT the human condition.
The English canon wasn't even around very long before it had its very first fanfiction. 

Good evening. I'm Guy Goodman St.White, your terribly British sounding host. Tonight we will be returning to the fountainhead of English literature again rather than mucking around in the regretfully seminal non-English parts of the canon. We will take a look at Judith. While this could technically be considered a religious text, the poem has some significant differences with the book found in the Catholic Bible. Regardless, Catholics are supposed to be doing their...non-protestant thing of hanging out in holy phone booths or whatever, and not reading the bible, so hopefully no one who might be offended will notice.

Major sections of Judith were destroyed in a fire. It was first discovered as an appendage to Beowulf. This is particularly notable as the chief claim Judith has to literary quality is that it is NOT Beowulf. Beyond that, it is a cesspool of genre tripe modeling itself closely after that steaming pile of speculative...oh dear, I nearly forgot my impeccable British manners.

Though there is some academic contention as to whether Cynewulf wrote Judith or not, it is my personal opinion that some silly git liked Beowulf a little too much, tried to write a story "just like it."

Obviously what we are looking at is the first recorded example of fanfic.

Cynewulf or no, our author needs to learn a little something about how to portray character in literature. If writing wants to have any hope of being considered as high art, a character must be portrayed as a morally ambiguous agent.

The human condition creates within each of us a duality. We are all a mixture of repugnant traits and admirable ones. In REAL literature, the author knows this, and doesn't fall into the trap of "good guys" and "bad guys." Such is the mark of hack writing with no literary value to speak of. All these virtues Judith has create an implausible protagonist as she goes to fight monsters. She even glows with saintly light as she strikes down evil.  I mean come ON!

Where's the moral ambiguity that is required for high art?

Obviously Cynewulf needed to ditch the unrealistic monsters, focus on the human power struggle of the socio-political landscape, the struggle of duty vs. desire, and the confrontation of dark shadows regarding the ethical implications of killing another human being. If PTSD nightmares over the horror of taking a life had led Judith to self medicate with prescription drugs and junk food while slipping into a quagmire of increasingly unsafe sexual exploits (with other women, no less), this might have actually been a story worthy of literature.

As it is though, we're going to toss it on the pile with last month's Asimov Magazine and lament the cold reality that speculative fiction even exists, and that the canon is so rife with it.

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