Beowulf: Not Just A Kid?S Story Essay, Research Paper
When you compare Beowulf to any modern novel or movie, Beowulf seems
childlike at best. Beowulf is told in a straightforward, uncomplicated manner very unlike
many of today?s works, which contain complex plots and themes. What makes Beowulf
readable to an adult and not just children? Why do people find stories such as Beowulf so
intriguing? Why is Beowulf, or any myth, significant?
Beowulf, the story of the young Beowulf sent by fate to save a kingdom plagued with a nightmarish monster, a rather basic plot synopsis especially for a story that has been around for more than one thousand years. However Beowulf contains far more long-standing impact than a slew of the best selling books at any bookstore. Beowulf, as any myth, teaches many moral lessons giving us a detailed insight into the culture and writer?s beliefs through written accounts of morality and religion and through the tale?s deep symbolism. And it also provides for an entertaining ride filled with supernatural feats and monsters with an inspirational hero or role model for the reader.
In contrast to some other popular mythological stories such as the tales of the Greek gods, Beowulf is almost believable. Beowulf is just over the edge of ?real?, it pushes our definition of what exists but not to the point to where we cannot imagine what is happening in the story. Also I feel that Beowulf is a superior work of mythology because Beowulf is a true and perfect hero, and represents the personality and courage most people wish they had
In Episode 1 the story begins with the tale of Scyld Sceafing, which parallels
Beowulf?s evolution, it is the motif of a helpless child turning into a great king. Similarly,
Sceafing arrives from the water to the Danish lands in the same way Beowulf arrives.
This is a popular theme in many myths, a small and weak one rising to be strong and a
leader (i.e. Jesus). Part of the beauty of mythology is the repetition of motifs such as this
one. Another facet of mythology that is uncovered in Episode 1 is religion. In every myth
religion is dealt with in some way. Unlike most myths, however, the religious affiliation
and code is hard to decipher. References to the Old Testament are made often (i.e. Cain
and Abel, the flood), but it is never made quite clear of what the religious beliefs of the Danes are. The writer himself is definitely familiar with the Bible, and was probably actually a monk, but the Danes do not seem to be. This raises the question of whether the original oral presentations contained the religious references or sub-stories that the written one does. Obviously the hero of the story does not completely fit the humble pacifist Christian personality, so it is a reasonable inquiry. As shown here, part of the reason myths are so fascinating is because of the questions and speculations they cause to arise about the culture and its ideas from which the myth evolved.
In Episode 3 the phenomenal Beowulf arrives on the Herot scene to slay Grendel. Beowulf in Beowulf is a very strong individual, so strong in fact that he rips archrival Grendel?s arm cleanly off! This is impossible of course, for a man to do such thing, physiology doesn?t permit it. Even more unbelievable is Grendel himself. Grendel?s ?fingers were nails like steel? (Beowulf Episode 5) and ?no battle sword could harm him – he had enchantment against the edges of weapons? (Beowulf Episode 6). A fantastic hero and villain is a key to mythology. Why have such an unreal hero? It?s simple because he is a hero, a role model, and so why not make him as powerful and super human as desirable. When the story originated, and was thus truthfully believed, many youngsters probably idolized the mighty Beowulf, and wanted to equal his valor and courage. It evoked emotional inspiration to conquer evil with bravery and goodness, a very desirable goal in any culture.
Demonstrated in Episode 4 was some very dramatic language that made
the story very compelling and entertaining. The author uses some vivid imagery and
language to describe the approaching Grendel?s character ?Came then from the moor under the misty hills, Grendel stalking under the weight of God’s anger. That wicked ravager planned to ensnare many of the race of men in the high hall? When he touched it with his hands the door gave way at once though its bands were forged in fire. Intending evil, enraged, he swung the door wide, stood at the building’s mouth? (Beowulf Episode 4). Dramatic language and stunning descriptions are found in most myths making the scenes and actions in the stories easy to picture, as well as making the tales more exciting.
Myths are usually very symbolic; in episodes 3 and 4 in Beowulf the heaviest images are the comparisons between light (Beowulf) and dark (Grendel). The scheme of light equals good and dark equals evils fits right into Beowulf. Grendel comes in from the dark, the moors; Beowulf waits in the light of the fire for him. From the beginning episode, Herot is emphasized with light, when Grendel attacks inside Herot it is dark. The light and dark forces, good and evil, always come into conflict with one another. For example, Grendel attacks the Herot because of its goodness because he is evil. Because Beowulf, on the other hand, is good he slays Grendel. Then in turn Grendel?s mother seeks revenge for similar reasons.
The portrayal of good and evil also demonstrates this myth?s moral belief system. King Hrothgar is praised because he ?handed out gold and treasure at huge feasts? (Beowulf Episode 1), and countless other acts of generosity. Beowulf as already mentioned was unbelievably strong and heroic, personifying what every warrior (or man even) should be. In contrast, to these two characters is Grendel who ?blinded by sin? killed and ?felt no remorse? (Beowulf Episode 2), being the epitome of the ultimate adversary. It?s easy to see what traits and actions, according to Beowulf are considered desirable and thus good, things like generosity, strength and bravery. It is equally as simple to pick out that Grendel?s actions represent absolute wrong and evil.
Another Christian symbolic instance in Beowulf is the battle with Grendel?s mother. He goes down into the water to battle a demonic monster. I think it symbolizes Beowulf going down into hell to face a devil. He enters the cavern and it is very dark, but with the help of God he is able to defeat the demon. And after his victory ?light glittered, a light brightened within, as bright and clear as the candle of the sky? (Beowulf Episode 7) very similar to the Christian motif of light shining down from heaven on a saint who has did a great deed.
In Episode 8 more morality lessons are being passed on to the reader, although in a less subtle method. The last section is about the responsibility of leadership. Hrothgar?s speech to Beowulf does not focus on the glory of battle; instead, he seems to be saying to trust in God and to be generous and humble. Beowulf, as any mythological character, is a perfect example of course. He is benevolent to Unferth, slays evil monsters, and promises peaces to the Danes. Also Beowulf dies for his kingdom, or country, setting an example for all warriors or soldiers to come. Another moral theme that resonates from Beowulf is the idea of the supremacy of generosity as discussed before. The king gives money and treasures out unrelentlessly throughout the story and examples are drawn of greedy and therefore bad kings.
The next battle, with the vengeful mother of Grendel, helps demonstrate the quest aspect of a myth. In most myths the hero must battle many foes, but they are almost invariably in order of difficulty. Each adversary is stronger and stronger leading up to the ultimate foe at the climax of the myth. Beowulf does not differ with regards to this scheme. In the first battle he dramatically fights Grendel with no weapons or armor, so they are equals. However when he faces Grendel?s mother, in order equal the battle, he must turn to a sword. And even with the sword and armor in the fight with Grendel?s mother it is only by luck and ?God?s grace? that he escapes the monster?s claws to kill it. Finally later in Beowulf, Beowulf fights the dragon. He must use a sword, a knife, a shield and even another man to defeat this worthy foe. However, even with all the weapons and help of Wiglaf, Beowulf dies in the climactic finale battle between him and the dragon.
When I first read Beowulf, I really thought it was, well, stupid and simple. However upon this second reading I have developed a fond sort of respect for Beowulf and other myths. Although I have never really believed nor been extremely influenced by a myth?s theme or plot, I think they are fascinating. They show so much about the culture they came from. When reading Beowulf I can just picture a poet reciting it in Old English to a large hall full of rustic looking men and captivated children. The story itself is mesmerizing to know that people actually believed it was true, I try to imagine what it was like fearing monsters like Grendel or a dragon, or let alone knowing that they such thing were out in the world.
Beowulf successfully fulfills its goal, as shown by its mere existence through time. It accomplishes the teaching of many moral lessons giving us a detailed insight into the culture and writer?s beliefs of morality and religion. And it also provides for an interesting ride filled with supernatural feats and monsters with an inspirational hero.
Beowulf.? Translated by Dr. David Breeden. Lone Star. August 1999. http://www.lnstar.com/literature/beowulf/