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.

      I don’t know if it was just me, but I saw a lot of similarities in this story and in “The Rape of the Lock”. Obviously, they are both satires and that may be why I found them so similar, but a part of it was that the characters worried about the most mundane things. I guess the authors may have been trying to comment on our own society and how we worry about mundane things, but I mean, come on. Going to war over which side you break an egg from? Who really worries about that?

      On the other hand, it makes me wonder if Swift is saying that the Lilliputians would find the things that we take seriously and go to war over, like religion, ridiculous. Maybe even Swift finds the things we take seriously ridiculous. After all, some of the wars we’ve had have been based on suppositions that, while to us serious, may not be to others. But what kind of threat is breaking the egg on one side or the other? I mean, why does it even matter? Is it an ideological thing? That is, does it have to do with the theory that, if you don’t think like us, or don’t act like us, then you pose a threat to society because you provide a different way that people might like better? This, after all, was the whole premise of the Inquisition.

      Even then, though, that type of thought I can understand being dangerous, because it was questioning the Bible, the ultimate authority of the land. And I guess, in a way, breaking the egg on the big side instead of the small side, or vice versa, undermines the authority of the Emperor. I guess it just bothers me because I can’t imagine going to war over how you break an egg. And this isn’t a regular sized egg to us, right? I mean, it’s a Lilliputian version, so it’s not like it’s gigantic to them and could threten their livelihood. I understand that swift is trying to show how miniscule and unimportant things that we take seriously in the larger world are. It’s just unsettling the way he chooses to do it.

     So… Beowulf. I saw the movie with a few members of my linguistics class, and I have to tell you, it was… interesting. A purist will absolutely hate it. If someone didn’t like the text, than they might like it. But if there are any doubts in your mind about if you actually might want to go see it, then it is not in your best interest to keep reading this. That’s my way of saying “Major Spoiler Alert”.

     I didn’t know that Beowulf was given Hrothgar’s kingdom when Hrothgar died. I don’t actually think that happened in the book. But it did in the movie. Hrothgar named Beowulf his successor for ridding them of Grendel “and Grendel’s mother”, even though he hasn’t really killed Grendel’s mother and Hrothgar seems to know that. Then he goes and jumps off a ledge and commits suicide. Wait… what? He doesn’t commit suicide in the story! But he does here. And apparently, killing Grendel’s mother is synonymous with sleeping with her, which, though it brings up some interesting parallels, doesn’t really happen in the poem, either. But then, everyone sleeps with her in the movie. After all, she is Angelina Jolie. Apparently, that’s how Grendel came about. Hrothgar slept with Angelina Jolie and Grendel was his son. Oops. So when Beowulf goes to kill Grendel’s mother, she demands a son of him instead, to replace Grendel. And what does he do? He gives it to her! Yep, the dragon is Beowulf’s son. Great, right? As if that weren’t enough, to kill him, Beowulf has to cut off his own arm (which disturbingly echoes the scene where he tears Grendel’s arm off in the door) and reach in an squeeze the dragon’s heart. Oh, also? Hrothgar had killed a dragon at the beginning, that’s why he’s king. The dragon’s name? Fafnir, the dragon that Siegfried kills in the Nibelungenlied. So, that’s Beowulf the movie. And Beowulf’s second in command, Wiglaf, also seems like he is going to sleep with Angelina Jolie at the end of the movie, after, of course, he takes Beowulf’s now-vacant throne (he died, ironically, in a fall from the rafters also).

      The 3D aspect of the movie made it cool, so it looked like we were going to be peirced by sharp objects at various points during the movie. The gore looked very fake, and it was very prominant. The semi-animation of the characters was… interesting. Some of them simply looked like slightly animated  versions of the actors (Angelina Jolie was one of these), while some looked like they were directly out of animated movies. Robin Wright Penn looked exactly like Princess Fiona from the Shrek movies. Oh, and let’s not forget, one of the only things that the director kept true to the story was that Beowulf fought each battle nude. And this is “America’s #1 movie”?

      If I hadn’t read the poem, then I may actually have liked the movie, but the discrepencies were a little too many and too much for me. I thought that they made it much too over the top, and this coming from someone who loves the Lord of the Rings series. But I’m sure other people will like it. I don’t think it was written for people like me.

     Okay, so I know I haven’t posted in a while, but I’m working on it. I’m going to catch up, I swear. Now, onto the posting, yay! I’m actually really glad that we talked about the word “sweet” in class the other day, because when I was reading I definatly wondered about that. Not the part we talked about, necessarily, but the part on the next page where Eve presented what the Norton anthology dubs her “love song”. We talked about how “sweet” to Milton meant a quality that penetrates to your inmost being and something that deals with the sublime. That was the sense of the word when Eve was described as “sweet”. Now I’m wondering if it means the same thing throughout the text.

      On page 1901 in the Norton, for example, Even says, “Sweet is the breath of morn, her rising sweet” (l. 641), and later, in lines 646 and 647, “and sweet the coming on/ Of grateful evening mild”. These don’t seem to be referring to the same “sweet” that is used to describe Eve. That sense of the word is used later in the speech, when she tells Adam that “nor walk of moon,/ Or glittering starlight without thee is sweet” (l. 655-6). So what does “sweet” really mean? How can it speak to the inmost being of something when that something is insensate?

      Perhaps, in this sense, it means that it penetrates to the inmost being of the observer and not the observed. This then, creates a problem with the description of Eve as “sweet”. Who is she being percieved as sweet by? Adam? The audience? Spenser himself? There are other sections where he inserts himself into the poem, so why not here, too? What, then, does this do for our perception of Eve? Does it make us notice ourselves more as readers while we read? Maybe I’m just reading way too much into one word that could very well mean something completely different in both cases. Then again, that’s my job as an English major, isn’t it? Anyway, it’s interesting food for thought.

                I really enjoyed reading Gawain and the Green Knight again in a different context. Previously, I’ve read it in connection with Kennedy’s Chaucer and Courtly Love classes, and both dealt more with the courtly romancse part of the tale than, say the “minor” characters in the text or the religious angle. They were mentioned, of course, because that’s a big part of the story. But it was especially interesting in this context because we just finished reading Beowulf and because I am taking a class that deals with Tolkien’s works, which reach back to the culture of Beowulf, especially for people like the Rohirrim. One of the things that I wanted to focus on is the character of Arthur, because I don’t feel that his case was given justice in the class.

                  Everyone knows Arthur as the legendary king of Camelot who fought off Morgan le Fay (who happens to be his sister whom he slept with) and his (illegitimate incestuous) son Mordred under the tutalage of Merlin. Everyone also knows that he was cuckolded by his best friend Lancelot. But in Gawain we see a very different Arthur. The Green Knight goes so far as to call him and all his knights cowards: “What, is this Arthur’s house… /whose fame is so fair in realms far and wide? /Where is now your arrogance and your awesome deeds, /your valor and your victories and your vaunting swords?” (ll.309-312). It then goes on to describe Arthur’s aggrieved state to hear this and his attempt to take the Knight’s challenge, which Gawain then intercepts and does himself.

                              In class, people asked why the brave and gallant Arthur that we hear about in those various Arthurian tales would let a knight, even one so valued as Gawain, take his place, especially when the conflict was bound to end in Gawaain’s death, as it seems it will at this point. I think, and I may have a romanticized version of this, that Arthur was doing what was best for his people. As callous as it sounds, there were other knights, though perhaps not so brave, but only one Arthur; only one whom the Sword chose as fit to rule Camelot. What would have happened to the kingdom if Arthur had died? Similarly, didn’t we just condemn Beowulf for failing his people by taking on a task he knew he would die during and doing do? Theoden does the same, leaving Eowyn in charge as he rides to war at Pellanor. Then Eowyn does it, too. Why, then, do we villify Arthur for taking a more moderate course? Is it because he and Beowulf have the same status as heroes? That’s true, but the values of a hero are different in the two socities. Anglo-Saxon culture considered you more heroic the more glory you recieved in battle; courtly tradition has some of that, but it also has an aspect to it of chivalry and the good, honorable dealings with women. I just don’t think that we can condemn one man for not exercizing prudence or thinking of his kingdom and then turn around and attack another for doing what we just advocted, despite, or perhaps becuase of, their different cultures.

                One of the things that I was disappointed in not getting to discuss in more detail in class is Unferth’s role in the story. In the beginning reading we had for this class, he was the only voice of dissent at Heorot, not having faith in Beowulf’s ability to defeat the monster. He brings up a story from Beowulf’s past, that must mostly be constucted from rumor, he having never met Beowulf before, yet he says that the boasting that got him so little effect then will do the same for him now. In this part he appears envious, as the poet tells us. Unferth’s woebegotten news comes to naught, as Beowulf easily defeats Grendel (at least, more easily than the other two major battles he faces).

                    However, it is not Unferth’s reaction here that interests me so much as his reaction when Beowulf must go to fight Grendel’s mother. Unferth lends Beowulf his sword, and some of the description bears repeating here: “And another item lent by Unferth at that moment of need was of no small importance: the brehon handed him a hilted weapon, a rare and ancient sword named Hrunting, The iron blade with its ill-boding patterns had been tempered in blood. It had never failed the hand of anyone who hefted it in batle, anyone who had fought and faced the worst in the gap of danger” (ll. 1455-1464). It is clearly a beautiful sword, and one that has done wonders for those who have used, if the description is any indication. Yet in the true time of need, when Beowulf weilds it against Grendel’s mother, it fails and shatters. Why? Is it a need to have the combat more fairly? That argument doesn’t really stand, though, because he does use a sword to dispatch her, albeit one from her own stock. And what are we to make of the fact that it is Unferth’s sword that was borrowed? Is it simply the first character on hand, or was there a deeper meaning to it?

                           I do think that the poet made it Unferth’s sword for a reason. However, whether that reason is because Unferth was making up for his lack of faith earlier, or whether he doesn’t think that even this sword, that “had never failed the hand of anyone who hefted it in battle”, will help Beowulf against the demon-mother, I’m not entirely sure. I do think that it says a lot about Unferth’s character, though, in the fact that a) this sword has never failed anyone, and presumably won’t fail this time, yet he doesn’t go and fight Grendel’s mother or Grendel himself with it and b) that he is willing to lend out the thing that protects his life (in theory) and yet he won’t accompany it. I may be reading far too much into this, but I feel that there is more to it than was explained. Otherwise, why not use Hrothgar’s sword? Or one of his companion’s, which would probably be more familiar to him than the weapon of another culture?

Tolkien’s Wandering Muse:

A Study of the Similarities between Germanic Asgard and Tolkien’s Valinor

            “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” This seemingly random statement in J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Hobbit, actually points to Tolkien’s tendency throughout all of his work, which I discuss in this paper, though with a much narrower scope. This trend is that, for much of his mythology, he drew ideas from Norse mythology and then adapted each to fit his story. The quote above refers to Smaug, the dragon in The Hobbit who lives in the old dwarf city of
Esgorath, hoarding the treasure that he stole from the dwarves. This situation bears a striking resemblance to one in the Norse epic The Nibelungalied, where the dragon Fafnir has stolen a hoard of gold from the Nibelungs and is hoarding it until Siegfried slays him. This example shows only one of the many ways that Tolkien uses Norse mythology to enhance his own mythology for
England. Some others include: basing his character of Gandalf Greyheme on the Norse god of runes, battle, and other things; many of the dwarf names in the hobbit are drawn from Norse mythology (i.e. Fili, Bifur, Bofur, Nili, Dwalin, etc.); Middle Earth is the place where humans dwell in Tolkien, while in Norse mythology, it is Midgard; there are elves in both, dwarves in both; the dwarves live underground and are metal workers in both; the Ring of Power in Tolkien’s book is very similar to the cursed ring of the dwarf Alberich in Norse mythology; the Valar and Ainur are the gods of Tolkien’s world, while the Vanir and Aesir are the two sets of gods in Norse mythology; Aegir, the Norse god of the sea, is very similar to Ulmo, Tolkien’s god of the sea; and the home of the gods in Tolkien’s world, Valinor, shares many of the qualities of the home of the gods in Norse mythology, Asgard. It is this last that this paper studies, since it was the first one I noticed in class this semester. It is also a comparison that has not had the same attention as some of the other comparisons, such as the one between Gandalf and Odin. By drawing this information from a mythology based in the same region, as opposed to drawing it from Greek or Roman mythology, makes the mythology he creates more authentic.

            Asgard is described by H.R. Ellis-Davidson as containing “many wonderful halls, in which the gods dwelt” (28). Kevin Crossley-Holland gives a more detailed description: “a mighty stronghold, a place of green plains and shining palaces high over Midgard” (6). The World-Tree, Yggdrasil, which extends even above Asgard, has a root in each of the three realms of Norse mythology. In Asgard, “Yggdrasil… had a sacred spring at its foot” (ED 191). Also, one of the halls in Asgard is
Valhalla, “hall of the slain, where [Odin] offered hospitality to all those who fell in battle” (28). The descriptions are sparse, but there many mentions of golden and silver halls, which are where the gods make their homes.

            Tolkien, on the other hand, provides very lengthy descriptions the home of his gods, Valinor: “Behind the walls of the Pelori the Valar established their domain in that region which is called Valinor; and there were their houses, their gardens, and their towers. In that guarded land the Valar gathered great store of light and all the fairest things that were saved from ruin; and many others they yet made anew…” (T 25). This description could be applied to Asgard also, except for the first eight words. They were both beautiful, both bathed in gold and light, and both were where the gods made their home. In Valinor, there was, or rather were, things that resembled Yggdrasil as well. Tolkien writes, “…upon the mound there came forth two slender shoots, and silence was over all the world in that hour… the saplings grew and became fair and tall, and came to flower; and thus awoke in the world the Two Trees of Valinor”. These trees, Telperion and Laurelin by name, each had dew drop from its leaves constantly; Telperion’s dew was silver, and Laurelin’s gold. Tolkien continues, “… the light that was spilled from the trees endured long, ere it was taken up into the airs or sank down into the earth; and the dews of Telperion and the rain that fell from Laurelin Varda hoarded in great vats like shining lakes” (T 26-7). As for the hall similar to Valhalla, Mandos, the god of the dead, has his halls (which are named after him), where the “dying… are gathered” (29) and which Tolkien tells us are “vast and strong, and… built in the west to theland of
Aman” (41). The similarities between the two realms are not enough to say that the two are exactly alike, however, they are enough to make it safe to assume that Tolkien based Valinor on Asgard, and then tweaked it a bit to make it unique to his mythology.

            His intention for this mythology was to create a mythology for
England and the English people, which is possibly why the Hobbits of the Shire use cockney English words like “coney” in their speech. Thus it was important for Tolkien to draw on myths that came out of that country, and, when that did not prove extensive enough, that region so that he could create a truer picture that the English would easily identify with. The fact that Tolkien also created his fourteen languages by basing them and their linguistic elements on ancient northern languages, such as Old Norse and Old English, helps support this theory. Nor is Tolkien the only author to draw on Norse tradition for inspiration. Two of the more popular young adult authors, J.K. Rowling of the Harry Potter series and Gary Paolini of the Inheritance series (Eragon, Eldest), drew names for their characters and places from Norse mythology. In Harry Potter, the werewolf that fights with Voldemort is named Fenris Greyback, which is appropriate, as Fenrir was the giant wolf son of Loki. In Eragon, Paolini names two of the sons of a miller are Albriech and Baldor, names of a dwarf and a god, respectively, and one of the mountain palaces is named Utgard. The fact that these names and ideas are being used more and more implys that the Norse myths are regaining popularity, at least in the science fiction world. Who knows, perhaps some day they will make their way into other forms of liberty as well.

Works Cited

Crossley-Holland, Kevin. The Norse Myths.
New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.

Ellis-Davidson, H.R. Gods and Myths of
Northern Europe
London, England: Penguin

Books, 1964.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Silmarillion. Ed. Christopher Tolkien.
New York: Houghton Mifflin

            Company, 2004.