I am a bad, bad person. Bad blogger (slaps hand). Okay. That’s taken care of. So now, I am going to attempt to play catch up, and we’ll see how it goes. There is actually something I’ve been thinking about, though, ever since we did Beowulf. Now, we all agree that going and killing the dragon in his old age was probably not the smartest thing he could have done, nor was it the best thing for his people. Right? But who are we to make that judgement of good king, bad king? I think that, one of the things that this section proves more than anything is that Beowulf is simply human.
We tend to see these epic heroes as larger than life, but I think one of the things about this course and most epics in general is the attempt they make to help us identify with the hero. Take Tolkien’s Lord of the Ringsas an example (it’s called Tolkiengirl, people. What do you expect?) He offers us many examples of the good king/bad king dynamic in the story with Theoden, Aragorn, and Denethor (even though he’s not really a king), and the differences are very interesting. By the idea we were going with in class, Theoden would be an example as a good king becuase he tries to aviod fighting the orks in order to protect his people. Without him, there would still be someone to rule, but he (or she) wouldn’t be nearly as experienced as Theoden in all matters of state. Or would he (or she)? We have to remember, here, that Theoden has been ruling in name only for many years under the yoke of Saruman, so that Eomer and, more, Eowyn have had to bear the day-to-day responsibilities of ruling the kingdom, such as taking care of Theodred, the King’s son, when he is brought back wounded. Does it make Theoden less of a good king, then, if he won’t fight and he has a capable ruler whom the people trust to leave behind?
Denethor, in the text, is supposed to be the “bad” ruler, and, don’t get me wrong, I hate the man. But, in terms of Beowulf, he also does what, if Beowulf had been a “good” king, he would have done by staying behind and not seeking a battle with the obviously superior forces of Mordor. But that doesn’t necessarily make him a good ruler. First, he scolds his son form returning to the city from Osgiliath and leaving that fortress open to the Enemy, even though they were severely outnumbered and many died. This then encourages his son to take his troop on a suicide mission where all but Dentehor’s son are killed, and Denethor’s son badly wounded. As if that weren’t bad enough, he then takes his son, whom he thinks is dead, and tries to cremate him, lashing out at any who try to stop him. He also ignores the advice of Gandalf, one of the Wise, and tries to deny the return of the King, Aragorn, to his rightful throne. Now does that sound like a good king to you?
Then we have the example in the story of the “good” king, the shining hero. And he does the same thing that Beowulf does in going out to fight an obviously superior force. But where Beowulf did it for his own pride, Aragorn is doing it for the good of all Middle-earth. This is what truly makes him a good king. Beowulf doesn’t seem to understand this type of sacrifice. The other character who (in theory) will one day rule, Boromir, perhaps offers us the best echo of Beowulf. He wants to take the Ring, which is evil, to Gondoe to use it as a weapon, though he is constantly told that it cannot be safely weilded. In fact, the more people tell him that, the more it seems like he wants to prove them wrong. He constantly harbors a desire for the Ring, which makes him the most vulnerable of the Company to its influence. Eventually it overcomes him and he tries to steal it, ending in his own death. Contrast him with his brother, Faramir, who is given the same opportunity to take control of the Ring but doesn’t desire to. In the end, of course, it is he who takes over his father’s position as Steward. But the Stewards no longer rule. Aragorn has been crowned and now the Stewards become advisors only, which Faramir seems okay with. Beowulf wouldn’t be.