Thursday, April 2, 2015

B is for Beowulf

Many of the stories you still see today are inspired directly and indirectly from various myths. For the 2015 A-Z Challenge, I'm going to share mythology from all over the world - myths that are familiar and obscure.

Beowulf is an Old English epic poem, but it's author is still a mystery. Scholars believe it was written between 700-1000 A.D. Most of the superhero elements you see in comic books can be traced right back to Beowulf, the hero of the Geats.

In the poem, Beowulf helps the King of the Danes, Hrothgar, defend his people against a horrible creature called Grendel. Grendel is supposed to be a descendent of Cain, and he's an ugly trollish looking monster. I guess Hrothgar and his soldiers are partying too loudly, and Grendel comes to shut them up by eating them.

Beowulf arrives to help out King Hrothgar, and in his first fight with Grendel, he rips the monster's
arm off. The creature runs away to his Mommy. Mommy is pissed off, so she goes to the king's hall and starts whooping ass before going back to her lair underneath a lake.

Beowulf and his men go after Grendel's Mommy, but our hero is dragged under the lake where she seemingly is beating Beowulf. He grabs an enchanted sword, cuts off her head, and then find Grendel where he beheads him too.

After a big party, Beowulf goes home and eventually becomes king. His kingdom is threatened by a powerful dragon. King Beowulf defeats the beast, but he's mortally wounded. He eventually dies from his injuries, and his people mourn their king and their greatest hero.

Despite this epic poem being over 1000 years old, readers are still attracted to fantastic stories of heroes defeating villains. Of good overcoming evil. Of larger than life characters sacrificing their lives for the good of their people.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wild to think we don't know who wrote it.

Alex Hurst said...

I imagine, like many of the stories that are that old, that it was a collection of oral tales that eventually melded into the story of one man. All I can remember from the story is the tasting of the blood and suddenly he can understand all of the beasts.

Alex Hurst, A Fantasy Author in Kyoto
Out of Print, Fiction authors and their shorts

A-Z Blogging in April Participant

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I didn't realize the story was a massive poem or that it was that old.

Pat Dilloway said...

I watched the Robert Zemeckis movie with Anjelina Jolie last year, which was kind of creepy with that weird animation they use. Anyway, I like Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead (made into the movie The 13th Warrior) which was an adaptation of Beowulf.

Pat Hatt said...

Never liked that latest animated movie they did, was pretty bland. But he is a great character. The father of superheroes maybe

S. L. Hennessy said...

It was one of my favorite high school reads. So influential in the literary world. And I always love John Gardner's Grendel too.

Shawn Griffith said...

It is an amazing story! Thanks for sharing. I love the theme you have going with A-to-Z. I wonder how many fantasy and science fiction authors would admit to being influenced by Beowulf?

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I'm so glad many schools still read that in their English classes. Hopefully, it inspires lots of young readers to love speculative fiction.

Anne Marie Schlueter said...

This was so hard for me to get through! Beowulf, that is, not your post ;) But I can definitely appreciate the fine literature that it is.

Chrys Fey said...

I didn't have to read Beowulf in school. I tried watching the newer version of the movie, but I thought it was odd and couldn't get past the beginning.

cleemckenzie said...

Our library did a read Beowulf aloud marathon last year. It was so interesting to hear the words.

Suzanne Lieurance said...

Hi, Jay,

Gosh. I remember reading Beowulf in college - I was an English major. Back then, I didn't know I'd become a writer. But I'm sure all the stories, poems, and other things I read have influenced my writing. It will be fun to see all your posts this month.

Suzanne A to Z Challenge participant

Mary Montague Sikes said...

Beowulf was part of high school, and I never liked it. Your post makes it quite real. Thank you.

jaybird said...

Great recap of this epic tale. I had no idea it started as a poem!

Intangible Hearts said...

I like your interpretation and don't remember the whooping his ass part. Very good! :)

Jenna Howard said...

Just like in Phantom of the Opera - I still root for Grendel.

Patricia Lynne said...

I wonder if one day, we'll find out who the author is. Beowulf is definitely an enduring tale if we still talk about it after all this time.

~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
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David P. King said...

I heard somewhere that a TV series might be in development for this story soon. I mean, why not? Beowulf would be / is hard to contain in a single movie. :)

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

Syd Lieberman's live telling of this is one of the best storytelling shows I have ever seen :)

@TarkabarkaHolgy from
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MopDog - 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

Nick Wilford said...

I never read it in school. You really piqued my interest.

Haneen I. Adam said...

I only saw the animated movie and pretty much hated it, but you told the story in such a way that made me laugh so hard. Thank you :D and a cool last paragraph.
"Haneen/I Will Never Give you Up (479)"

farawayeyes said...

Best 'cliff notes' version of Beowulf I've ever seen. He had a mean mommy!

Sharon Marie Himsl said...

This story has always fascinated me too. Amazing a poem over 1000 years old still has such power. Had never heard of the connection with Cain.

Holly Jahangiri said...

There's something about "larger than life" that either inspires us or makes us see our own troubles as comparatively small, at least for a little while. I think that's part of the escapist appeal of a good tale.

Jo said...

A lot of that story has been copied in other more modern stories, Morte d'Arthur comes to mind for a start.

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