Monday, April 4, 2011

More on "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics"

We talked about this in class, and some of you have discussed it on this blog as well, but much more could be said about this topic. How does Tolkien's article "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" relate to Tolkien's own work? How does what Tolkien says about the Old English poem find its way into the works on Middle-earth?


Belladonna Took said...

In “Beowulf: The Monsters and The Critics”, Tolkien says that Beowulf is not an epic, but an elegy. An elegy’s focus is to convey grief to the dead (Beowulf, the protagonist, dies). To me, it seems as if Beowulf can be considered multiple things. In the same way, LOTR can be considered a fairy tale and an epic (swapped endings though). Moreover, LOTR also conveys grief in the end as the protagonist, Frodo, goes to the Havens (LOTR is not an elegy, which only refers to a poem, but the idea is in both LOTR and Beowulf). Just to make some comparisons that I thought of that were not touched on in detail during class:
King Hyglac gives Beowulf the sword Naegling (a kingly sword) which breaks durng his battle with the dragon. In LOTR, Narsil (which is somewhat similar in spelling and also a kingly sword) breaks under Elendil. The swords break against the dragon and Sauron,both of whom are primary antagonists. I also thought that Beowulf leading the Geats to help the Danes was kind of similar to Gandalf leading Erkenbrand to help Rohan.

Aredhel said...

I think we could draw a comparison between Beowulf and LOTR in Tolkien's quote on the plot of the epic poem: "In its simplest terms it is a contrasted description of two moments in a great life, rising and setting; an elaboration of the ancient and intensely moving contrast between youth and age, first achievement and final death."

A lot of people I know have a hard time starting LOTR because of its intense length. It's not an easy read by any means, and a lot happens between the opening scenes in the Shire and Frodo sailing from the Havens in the end. You could almost say it's like Beowulf: a clear beginning and end, with a lot going on in the middle that can get pretty confusing.

So I think Tolkien's above quote relates to both works. As readers we see a clear change in the young Beowulf and the older King Beowulf. And we can see a clear change in Frodo (and so many other characters) before and after the destruction of the Ring. In both works, there are these "two moments...rising and setting" that are clear to the reader. If we understand nothing else, Tolkien wants us to see the character developement between "first achievement and final death."

Elendil said...

I just wanted to briefly touch on the mention Tolkien makes of the foes of Beowulf. He says "It is just because the main foes of Beowulf are inhuman that the story is larger and more significant than this imaginary poem of a great king's fall. It glimpses the cosmic and moves with the thought of man concerning the fate of human life and efforts; it stands amid but above petty wars of princes and surpasses the dates and limits of historical periods, however important."

I thought this quote was important because it not only addressed the issue of fantastical creatures appearing in real periods of history, but it also allows insight into Tolkien's choice to put inhuman creatures as the main foes in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. By his reckoning, the inhuman foe allows the story to transcend the normal problems of this world by making the story "cosmic" and "amid but above the petty wars of princes". It allows the story to transcend time and space to be accessible to readers across the ages and have it apply to something beyond the annals of history.