19 July 2010


As I prepare to start a new year with Beowulf as my headliner, I  am struck my some of  the incongruous ideas that my students and I will share regarding heroes. Beowulf can be a hard sell in 2010, but I usually manage to make them remember it. They will agree that many of the ideas they hold about true heroes probably do come from this 1500-year-old adventure story, without much change once it was written down.  But does Beowulf still represent any kind of hero they would recognize today?

Many of my male students are great fans of the 1999 cult movie BOONDOCK SAINTS. I must admit, it has a certain appeal for me as well.  The heroes are Boston twins who decide that the justice system--nor their religion-- cannot handle the sins of the truly evil anymore, and God tells them to handle it themselves. At the end of the movie, the twin "saints" invade the courtroom where a mafia boss is about to be acquitted of his crimes and take justice into their own hands-violently and irrevocably earning the title "boondock saints" in the neighborhood. This is their pronouncement as they prepare to kill the defendant:

"Now you will receive us.
We do not ask for your poor or your hungry. We do not want your tired and sick. It is your corrupt we claim. It is your evil that will be sought by us. With every breath, we shall hunt them down. Each day we will spill their blood til it rains down from the skies.
Do not kill, do not rape, do not steal, these are principles which every man of every faith can embrace. These are not polite suggestions — these are codes of behavior. And those of you that ignore them will pay the dearest cost.
There are varying degrees of evil, we urge you lesser forms of filth not to push the bounds and cross over into true corruption, into our domain. But if you do, one day you will look behind you and you will see we three and on that day you will reap it. And we will send you to which ever god you wish.
And shepherds we shall be, for thee my Lord for thee, power hath descended forth from thy hand, that our feet may swiftly carry out thy command. We shall flow a river forth to thee, and teeming with souls shall it ever be. In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti."

These sound like the words of righteous men, but are they? Our children have grown up in an American world in which it probably seems that  justice is not often served--the unethical practices of Wall Street, dueling political parties who deal in the lowest common denominator when serving their constituents, religious leaders who have betrayed, hurt those they are meant to protect, ridiculous people becoming famous celebrities while true heroes struggle in anonymity, school bullies implementing new, more humiliating ways to denigrate the innocent--so it is no wonder that this kind of  "saint" becomes heroic.

 Sometimes it feels as though I am swimming upstream all day long, just to stay in place, with my discussions of good vs evil or blog prompts that attempt to connect their lives with the novels and poetry we read. And then I wonder if the Boondock Saints have just returned the justice system to its Anglo-Saxon days, where the evil are destroyed.

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