Thoughts on Beowulf

Yeah, you read that right. You’re looking at the blog of someone who has actually read Beowulf. Swag swag.

The best Beowulf I could find

Hello world. Brimming with thoughts tonight as usual.

If you ever wondered what people in English Literature study, let me just say that a third of whatever it is we read, if they aren’t stories, are these long pieces of intellectual and theological discourse about life. Life. The meaning of life. How you should live it. How everyone should live it. And how people who don’t live like the one proposed in the piece is foolish because they aren’t living life. Of course that probably means that we are all fools because we all aren’t Henry David Thoreau.

Yes, if you can’t already tell, I have given up on Walden. For now. Ugh. Supposed to read the first two chapters for tomorrow. It’s not going to happen.

I used to pride myself for being a fast reader and all, but I’d forgotten how much the aspect of being interested in the writing affected my speed. Reading is a lot like eating. If you’ve read a good book, you’ll know how fast you can go through it. It’s like you’re scarfing down the pages and you can’t read fast enough. And when you’re done, you’re full and satisfied and it was delicious. What I went through the past couple of hours, trying to masticate something like 60 pages of Walden, was more like stuffing my face with some kind of sludgy, grey, bitter, hard… stuff. Think of “No, really, I couldn’t eat another bite.” but I’d kept cramming it in until I hit the page 60 mark. Technically I’ve something like 40 pages to go. Technically. Maybe I’m not that adult for it yet. Or maybe if I had time, it wouldn’t be so grey and bitter. Shrug.

But enough of Walden. Today, I wanted to talk about Beowulf.

The tutors and lecturer and the class went through a lot on Beowulf today. Same as the Tempest, this is not so much and academic take on Beowulf although there could be bits and pieces of it since my response would have been influenced by what them scholars say. So.

Hmm thoughts on Beowulf. We actually went through a whole, “Who liked Beowulf as a hero?” thing in tutorial. A couple of hands went up but most of us didn’t seem to like him a lot.

Someone mentioned she couldn’t decide if she liked Beowulf as a hero because he had both good qualities of an Anglo-Saxon hero (Strength, courage etc) but he also had bad qualities. The tutor reminded us that while Beowulf is a supposed hero, he was still inherently human and had human flaws. Something that was easily overlooked.

Someone else was conflicted because whilst what Beowulf did was ‘good’ for the people, it also benefitted himself so she couldn’t make up her mind if Beowulf was a good hero or just cunning. To which the tutor asked as a food for thought, “Why do we always doubt someone’s intentions if he so happens to benefit alongside everyone else by whatever act he does?” Something along those lines. That was thought-provoking and actually rather relatable. Especially, I think, for people who hold firmly to the believe that there are no free lunches in the world.

We talked about Beowulf’s life all the way to his death with the dragon where someone else said something I hadn’t thought of. While I mostly thought that slaying the dragon was the most heroic thing Beowulf did, someone suggested that this could be the way Beowulf had planned to die, as a hero attempting to slay a dragon. And if that was his plan, his ‘heroism’ would almost be a sham. Or at least, he would be less noble than we thought he was. This was very plausible, of course. He was, by now, an old man and he wanted to take on the dragon by himself? Yep. I saw the whole “dying in glory” point. Plus, glory was like the biggest deal to the Anglo-saxons. It was the only way they could be immortalised and remembered by the generations after.

Then we went on a bit about what the dragon symbolised which I hadn’t thought about either. I thought…it was just a dragon? Like, the embodiment of the villain because those people believed that dragons were real and they were always in these kinds of stories anyway. I just thought it was the dragon meant to be slain by the hero.

A suggestion of the dragon representing Beowulf in his youth came up. The dragon protecting the treasure was similar to young Beowulf protecting his people. So there’s a parallel.

Another suggestion was that the dragon represented sin and that Beowulf killing it represented some kind of redemption, and an end to this cycle of feuds. Something like that. To me though, if the dragon was sin, and it killed Beowulf too, then… yea, not a happy ending.

Someone mentioned something about altruism (which I admit, I totally didn’t know what altruism meant) which was basically selflessness. I got lost in that discussion (oops) but I don’t particularly think Beowulf was a selfless person.

Ok, I just realised that was a condensation of the most exciting discussions we had in tutorial. Now for my thoughts.

No, I didn’t like Beowulf. I get that heroes of that time probably did that whole glory-hankering thing. It’s probably even a virtue of sorts in that society. So he’s excused from being arrogant and almost Thor-like. I didn’t consider him much of a hero because, well, I didn’t think it was a big deal to kill Grendel and his mother. For one, it’s almost Grendel’s fault because he had no motivation at all as a villain. It’s almost like he’s not human but a personification of some kind of vice. (Some in tutorial mentioned being an outsider) There’s nothing like a poor villain to smother the heroism of the supposed hero. That’s why I only liked Beowulf to the end where he died trying to kill a dragon. He actually sacrificed and paid something. It was actually a difficult thing to kill a dragon, to the point that he died in doing so. I mean, he didn’t even get hurt for the other two! Call me sadist but yeah.

Other rants and questions I had:

– Why would Beowulf go to save Hrothgar in the first place, at all? It really wasn’t any business of his, really. At all. Was his country too peaceful that he could go off seeking glory elsewhere? Hmm.

– Why would the warriors and Hrothgar not do anything about Grendel and even allow themselves to get drunk while Grendel is on the loose? I mean, set up watch or something! Seriously, get drunk while a killer is on a rampage. It’s like they’re waiting for death. Someone in tutorial mentioned that Hrothgar and his helpless people symbolise early Christians who believe that God has appointed a time for birth and death so I guess, in essence, they were really just waiting for death. In the sense, they didn’t believe they could do anything but wait for their time which is in God’s hands. Doh.

– Yea so Grendel had no dad but neither did Shield nor Beowulf. They were orphans and they didn’t turn out like Grendel did.

I watched the trailer of Beowulf and it made Beowulf appear as a typical Hollywood douche. Well, what can you expect? With Angelina Jolie for Grendel’s mother? Yeeaaah. Nope. That’s kind of why there aren’t any pictures in this post hoho. I ABSOLUTELY REFUSE TO USE THE MOVIE STILLS which keep coming out on Google Images.

Mostly that. We are also going to do The Tempest again (yay!) so quite happy. And between panicking over what counts as a good thesis statement for the many upcoming essays and papers and cramming myself with life philosophy from brilliant old writers, life is good. It’s good.

Yeahaha. Life of an English student.

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