is a Geats warrior who journeys across the sea to aid Hrothgar, King of the Scyldings, whose Great Hall is terrorized by the monster, Grendel.
His story is so old, no one knows how old it actually is, although it is often dated between the 8th and 11th centuries. The first printed edition appeared in 1815. Over the years, many translations and reprintings followed. As did the debate of its origins.
Many believed that the Germanic tradition forms the basis of the story. However, Wilhelm Grimm (yes, one-half of the Grimm Brothers) linked Beowulf to Irish traditions, such as the Feast of Bricriu or Táin Bó Fráech as the foundation of the tale. Gotta love them Irish~ they have their fingers in everything.
In a nutshell, Beowulf is an arrogant bad-ass who defeats a dragon to become a king. Depending on your persuasion, there could be a lot of symbolism to delve into and explore, but I’ll save that for Lit Class. Mostly.
As in all good tales, Hollywood has reinvented Beowulf numerous times. And I, have likely seen them all. Some good, some not so-much, but the one I watch over and over is Outlander ~ no, not the soon to be Starz series based on Diana Gabaldon’s epic historicals. I’m talking about the Sci-Fi fantasy film starring the hot and dreamy Jim Caviezel, which puts a space alien twist on the epic battle between Beowulf and Grendel. Though the character names were changed to protect the . . . actually, I’m not sure why the writers chose to change their names, but creative muses are fickle and maybe Beowulf and Grendel weren’t hip enough monikers.
Anyhoo, Outlander is the adventure of Kainan, a soldier, who’s spacecraft crashes in ancient Norway while transporting the alien monster (looks alot like a dragon to me) that killed his family. He sets out to find and destroy the vicious creature that is now ravaging Earth. Kainan is hell-bent on revenge when the story opens but as things progress and the viewer learns his backstory, he comes to terms with his own culpability in his family’s deaths and in the creation of his own mortal enemy. This knowledge and acceptance of responsibility frees him from the past and he discovers that what he is really fighting for is his future.
I believe that legends and myths are largely made of ‘truth’… JRR Tolkien
Archaeological excavations at Lejre, the seat of Scylding according to Scandinavian traditions, have uncovered a large building,
circa mid-6th century. The structure contains three halls, each fifty meters long, similar to the ones described in the original Beowulf epic poem. Discoveries at the Eadgils’ mound in Uppsala, Sweden seem to support the existence of Beowulf as a real man and his sagas. Birger Nerman—Swedish archaeologist, professor, and author, has now identified the barrow of Skalunda as Beowulf’s final resting place.
How awesome is that? Beowulf actually existed. Well, Hell’s Bells. What about Grendel?
“But it is one thing to read about dragons and another to meet them.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin
In fairy tales, myths and legends…Dragons often personify fear. Get it? To conquer our fear, is to “Slay the Dragon.” So,if we look past the “dragon” imagery to the core of the monster Grendel, what do we see?
… a shadow-glider with flaming eyes, a hellish ravager, a spell-weaver who seized his victim,
“a sleeping warrior and slit him wide open,
biting into the body, drinking blood in streams,
a swallowing huge mouthfuls—till soon
he had eaten the entire man’s corpse,
even feet and hands.” Beowulf, lines 741-745
Grendel comes out only at night, drinks his victims’ blood and devours their flesh. He’s super-human stronger, able to rip apart limbs with his bare hands so he has no need for weapons. Even when Beowulf defeats Grendel and finds him dead in a lair, Beowulf beheads the monster, to ensure the creature never rises again. Holy Crap!
Grendel was a VAMPIRE!
Hey, wouldn’t that make Beowulf the original vampire slayer? And if so, are the ancient medieval manuscripts depicting dragons actually implying that vampires really do exist?