When you compare Beowulf to any modern novel or movie, Beowulf seems childlikeat best. Beowulf is told in a straightforward, uncomplicated manner very unlikemany of todays works, which contain complex plots and themes.
What makesBeowulf readable to an adult and not just children? Why do people find storiessuch 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 plaguedwith a nightmarish monster, a rather basic plot synopsis especially for a storythat has been around for more than one thousand years. However Beowulf containsfar more long-standing impact than a slew of the best selling books at anybookstore. Beowulf, as any myth, teaches many moral lessons giving us a detailedinsight into the culture and writers beliefs through written accounts ofmorality and religion and through the tales deep symbolism. And it alsoprovides for an entertaining ride filled with supernatural feats and monsterswith an inspirational hero or role model for the reader.
In contrast to someother popular mythological stories such as the tales of the Greek gods, Beowulfis almost believable. Beowulf is just over the edge of “real”, it pushes ourdefinition of what exists but not to the point to where we cannot imagine whatis happening in the story. Also I feel that Beowulf is a superior work ofmythology because Beowulf is a true and perfect hero, and represents thepersonality and courage most people wish they had In Episode 1 the story beginswith the tale of Scyld Sceafing, which parallels Beowulfs evolution, it isthe motif of a helpless child turning into a great king. Similarly, Sceafingarrives from the water to the Danish lands in the same way Beowulf arrives. Thisis a popular theme in many myths, a small and weak one rising to be strong and aleader (i.e. Jesus).
Part of the beauty of mythology is the repetition of motifssuch as this one. Another facet of mythology that is uncovered in Episode 1 isreligion. In every myth religion is dealt with in some way. Unlike most myths,however, the religious affiliation and code is hard to decipher. References tothe Old Testament are made often (i.
e. Cain and Abel, the flood), but it isnever made quite clear of what the religious beliefs of the Danes are. Thewriter himself is definitely familiar with the Bible, and was probably actuallya monk, but the Danes do not seem to be. This raises the question of whether theoriginal oral presentations contained the religious references or sub-storiesthat the written one does. Obviously the hero of the story does not completelyfit the humble pacifist Christian personality, so it is a reasonable inquiry. Asshown here, part of the reason myths are so fascinating is because of thequestions and speculations they cause to arise about the culture and its ideasfrom which the myth evolved.
In Episode 3 the phenomenal Beowulf arrives on theHerot scene to slay Grendel. Beowulf in Beowulf is a very strong individual, sostrong in fact that he rips archrival Grendels arm cleanly off! This isimpossible of course, for a man to do such thing, physiology doesnt permitit. Even more unbelievable is Grendel himself.
Grendels “fingers were nailslike steel” (Beowulf Episode 5) and “no battle sword could harm him – he hadenchantment against the edges of weapons” (Beowulf Episode 6). A fantastichero and villain is a key to mythology. Why have such an unreal hero? Itssimple because he is a hero, a role model, and so why not make him as powerfuland super human as desirable. When the story originated, and was thus truthfullybelieved, many youngsters probably idolized the mighty Beowulf, and wanted toequal his valor and courage. It evoked emotional inspiration to conquer evilwith bravery and goodness, a very desirable goal in any culture.
Demonstrated inEpisode 4 was some very dramatic language that made the story very compellingand entertaining. The author uses some vivid imagery and language to describethe approaching Grendels character “Came then from the moor under the mistyhills, Grendel stalking under the weight of God’s anger. That wicked ravagerplanned to ensnare many of the race of men in the high hall..
. When he touchedit with his hands the door gave way at once though its bands were forged infire. Intending evil, enraged, he swung the door wide, stood at the building’smouth” (Beowulf Episode 4). Dramatic language and stunning descriptions arefound in most myths making the scenes and actions in the stories easy topicture, as well as making the tales more exciting.
Myths are usually verysymbolic; in episodes 3 and 4 in Beowulf the heaviest images are the comparisonsbetween light (Beowulf) and dark (Grendel). The scheme of light equals good anddark equals evils fits right into Beowulf. Grendel comes in from the dark, themoors; Beowulf waits in the light of the fire for him.
From the beginningepisode, Herot is emphasized with light, when Grendel attacks inside Herot it isdark. The light and dark forces, good and evil, always come into conflict withone another. For example, Grendel attacks the Herot because of its goodnessbecause he is evil. Because Beowulf, on the other hand, is good he slays Grendel.Then in turn Grendels mother seeks revenge for similar reasons. The portrayalof good and evil also demonstrates this myths moral belief system. KingHrothgar is praised because he “handed out gold and treasure at huge feasts”(Beowulf Episode 1), and countless other acts of generosity.
Beowulf as alreadymentioned 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), beingthe epitome of the ultimate adversary. Its easy to see what traits andactions, according to Beowulf are considered desirable and thus good, thingslike generosity, strength and bravery. It is equally as simple to pick out thatGrendels actions represent absolute wrong and evil. Another Christiansymbolic instance in Beowulf is the battle with Grendels mother.
He goes downinto the water to battle a demonic monster. I think it symbolizes Beowulf goingdown into hell to face a devil. He enters the cavern and it is very dark, butwith 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 candleof the sky” (Beowulf Episode 7) very similar to the Christian motif of lightshining down from heaven on a saint who has did a great deed. In Episode 8 moremorality lessons are being passed on to the reader, although in a less subtlemethod. The last section is about the responsibility of leadership. Hrothgarsspeech to Beowulf does not focus on the glory of battle; instead, he seems to besaying to trust in God and to be generous and humble.
Beowulf, as anymythological character, is a perfect example of course. He is benevolent toUnferth, slays evil monsters, and promises peaces to the Danes. Also Beowulfdies for his kingdom, or country, setting an example for all warriors orsoldiers to come.
Another moral theme that resonates from Beowulf is the idea ofthe supremacy of generosity as discussed before. The king gives money andtreasures out unrelentlessly throughout the story and examples are drawn ofgreedy and therefore bad kings. The next battle, with the vengeful mother ofGrendel, helps demonstrate the quest aspect of a myth. In most myths the heromust 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 theclimax of the myth. Beowulf does not differ with regards to this scheme. In thefirst battle he dramatically fights Grendel with no weapons or armor, so theyare equals.
However when he faces Grendels mother, in order equal the battle,he must turn to a sword. And even with the sword and armor in the fight withGrendels mother it is only by luck and Gods grace that he escapesthe monsters claws to kill it. Finally later in Beowulf, Beowulf fights thedragon. He must use a sword, a knife, a shield and even another man to defeatthis worthy foe. However, even with all the weapons and help of Wiglaf, Beowulfdies in the climactic finale battle between him and the dragon.
When I firstread Beowulf, I really thought it was, well, stupid and simple. However uponthis second reading I have developed a fond sort of respect for Beowulf andother myths. Although I have never really believed nor been extremely influencedby a myths theme or plot, I think they are fascinating. They show so muchabout the culture they came from.
When reading Beowulf I can just picture a poetreciting it in Old English to a large hall full of rustic looking men andcaptivated children. The story itself is mesmerizing to know that peopleactually believed it was true, I try to imagine what it was like fearingmonsters like Grendel or a dragon, or let alone knowing that they such thingwere out in the world. Beowulf successfully fulfills its goal, as shown by itsmere existence through time.
It accomplishes the teaching of many moral lessonsgiving us a detailed insight into the culture and writers beliefs of moralityand religion. And it also provides for an interesting ride filled withsupernatural feats and monsters with an inspirational hero.Bibliography”Beowulf.
” Translated by Dr. David Breeden. Lone Star. August 1999.http://www.lnstar.com/literature/beowulf/