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Beowulf and Tolkien. Julian and Preston.

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beowulf and tolkien

Beowulf and Tolkien

Julian and Preston


Beowulf and JRR Tolkien- 1936 Tolkien wrote Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, a widely used piece of literary criticism, in which he espoused the importance of monsters in the poem as they tell us about the values of Anglo-Saxon culture.- Tolkien did not just write the Lord of The Rings Trilogy. Other works of his published concerning Arda, or his version of Earth, are The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Children of Hurin, The Tales of Tom Bombadil and other short, mostly unfinished tales

  • . Arda is Middle Earth plus the Dark Lands to the South, the Undying Lands (which don’t actually exist until an immortal tries to sail to them), the Land of the Sun to the East and formerly the Island of Numenor. In the Trilogy Arda is now round, though it used to be flat, and the stories take place in Middle Earth, which is where all the main characters live.
  • The concept of Middle Earth is most directly linked to Midgard, or one of the 9 worlds of the Germanic prehistory filled with monsters, fairies and elves.
  • Tolkien imported settings from around Europe that he knew to create Middle-Earth. For example, the Shire, where the hobbits live, is supposed to resemble the English countryside.
  • It is important to understand the “time period” and “setting” of Tolkien’s novels.
  • The majority of his novels, including all of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, take place in Arda. Arda is our Earth 6,000 years ago, but with a completely different history
rohan scandinavia

Rohan - Scandinavia

Rohan- Land of the Horse Lords

Language- Rohan is the only society for which Tolkien does not invent a new language, Rohirric is actually Old English

Rohirrim (people of Rohan)- “Beowulf on horse-back”, ironically the horse is what contributed to the defeat of the early Anglo-Saxons as they didn’t have any

Heorot – Edoras (Capital of Rohan)

“Edoras those courts are called, and Meduseld that golden hall” (135)

Heorot- “It’s glittering roofs visible far across the land.”

Meduseld- “The light of it shines far over the land”

Meduseld- Anglo-Saxon for Mead-Hall

Hama and Eomer- Theoden’s Guard and his nephew, same names as characters in Beowulf

Theoden’s Exorcism – Beowulf and Grendel

Gandalf comes to rid the grand hall and lands of King Theoden of the evil of Saruman

Similarly, Beowulf comes to rid Hrothgar of the evil of Grendel

Both kings have been aged and weakened by the evil in their halls

- Both heroes greeted with hostility by the King’s advisors, Unferth and Wormtongue

Both have come on perilous journeys to reach these golden halls,

Gandalf with his fight with the Balrog and Beowulf his journey across the sea

- Both are successful in purging the evil from the Golden Hall and restoring hope to the land

of dragons
Of Dragons
  • In Beowulf, the treasure hoarding dragon becomes enraged and starts burning Geatland after an anonymous cup thief steals from him
  • Similarly, Smaug, the dragon in the hobbit who guards the the stolen treasure of the dwarves in the Lonely Mountain, begins to burn the town of Dale after Bilbo steals a golden cup from him.
  • Both dragons guard their treasures with extreme greed, they notice when even a small cup is stolen from their hoards, and both dragons are slain. Though Smaug is killed by the arrow of Bard of Dale. Additionally, both possess poisonous qualities, as Beowulf’s dragon poisons and kills him and Smaug poisons the lake in which he dies in.
beorn beowulf
Beorn - Beowulf
  • In Old Norse Beowulf means “Bear”
  • Beorn is a shape-shifting man who takes on the form of a black bear
  • Beorn possesses incredible strength, lives by a strict code of honor, and goes out every night to fight orcs, whom he rips apart with his grip.
  • Beorn most closely resembles Beowulf in that they share the same “berserker” mentality. Neither character is given much more of a purpose than to kill and gain honor in battle, and they both do it well.
gollum grendel
Gollum - Grendel
  • Grendel- “greedy and grim, he grabbed thirty men from their resting places and rushed to his lair”
  • Gollum- “a small slimy creature…as dark as darkness, except for two big round pale eyes in his thin face”
  • Both creatures possess superhuman strength, lack humanity, attack at night, relentlessly pursue their prey based on unexplicable anger and greed, and live in an underground lake.
  • In his lecture, Beowulf: The Monsters and The Critics, Tolkien argued that Beowulf should not be regarded as a history book of the Anglo-Saxons, but rather as a work of art elementary in establishing a poetic tradition of England. He wanted his books to do much the same.
  • “I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend… which I could dedicate simply to England, my country… I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in scheme”- Tolkien
  • Tolkien wanted to create not just a story, but a legend and a tradition for story telling in his native land and he had to draw upon the older Anglo-Saxon tales, including Beowulf, to do so.
good vs evil
Good vs. Evil
  • The conflicts in Beowulf occur between the good, Beowulf, and the terribly evil. Beowulf is meant to epitomize the ideal Anglo-Saxon with his strength, courage and loyalty, and the monsters he faces, especially Grendel, commit unexplainabe acts of terrible violence and cruelty. The book is also loaded down with contrasts between the light and the dark, expressing this theme of Good vs. Evil.
  • Tolkien’s books have much of the same conflict. In The Silmarillion, Tolkien introduces the fall of the first evil god, and from that point there is always a force of evil plaguing the people of Middle Earth which must be destroyed. This evil is almost always represented by much of the same mysterious, merciless evil that characterizes Grendel . The evil lord in the trilogy, Sauron, is referred to as the shadow and these books are filled with conflicts between the light and the dark ex. Gandalf vs. the Balrog, Eowyn vs. the Witch King, Sam vs. Shelob.
  • “It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.”
  • For the characters of Tolkien and the Anglo-Saxons, the conflict between right and wrong ruled societies built on ethics, honor and violence.
  • Both tales focus on the defeat of monsters and the thin lines between strength and monstrosity. Beowulf focuses on the battles with Grendel, Grendel’s mother and the Dragon, and each one of Tolkien’s books features numerous encounters between the protagonists and the monstrous.
  • The name for the Orcs, the common enemies of the people of Middle Earth in battle, is derived from the word Orcneas which appears in Beowulf as creatures who, like Grendel and his mother, are descendants of Cain.
  • Tolkien argued that it was he monsters and the fairy-tale nature of Beowulf, not the historical content, that made it a great piece of Anglo-Saxon literature and that the monsters, being the anti-thesis of many aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture, reveal much about the culture itself. In Beowulf’s enemies we see unstoppable bloodlust, a fierce, unmarried woman, and a greedy dragon, the opposite of a generous king and ring-giver.
  • The One Ring represents the arbitrary nature of the powerful and the monstrous, just as Beowulf does.
  • With the Ring one becomes all-powerful, and has the ability to usurp Sauron, however with these extreme abilities comes the corruption of the soul, and the ring-bearer becomes a monster. That is why the only successful ring-bearers, Frodo and for a short time Sam, are the smallest of folk who want not power and abilities, but peace in their hobbit-holes.
honor loyalty
  • In Beowulf, as with the Anglo-Saxons, honor and loyalty are incredibly important. Beowulf seeks neither gold nor women but honor for his King Hygelac and his fellow Geats. Additionally, Wiglaf becomes Beowulf successor because he is the only one loyal enough to stand with Beowulf against the dragon.
  • “And now that thane unequalled for goodness with his own hands washed his lords wounds” (Beowulf)
  • Boromir, Captain of Gondor and son of the Steward, is perhaps the best example of this code of honor in the Trilogy as he is always thinking about how he might best bring back glory to the people of Gondor. SamwiseGamgee is the ultimate example of loyalty in the Trilogy, as he stays with Frodo no matter what, while all of the evil characters in Tolkien’s books have committed some terrible act of betrayal.
  • “I’m glad you are here with me. Here in the end of all things, Sam.” (Return of the King)
  • “I would see the glory of Gondor restored. Have you ever seen it, Aragorn? The White Tower of Ecthelion, glimmering like a spike of pearl and silver, its banners caught high in the morning breeze. Have you ever been called home by the clear ringing of silver trumpets? ” (Fellowship of the Ring)
  • The Anglo-Saxons warrior kings were supposed to lead their people through strength in battle, and Beowulf is the ultimate Anglo-Saxon hero as he epitomizes a warrior king. Also mentioned in Beowulf are the great kings Sigmund and Shield Sheafson who are considered great because they both fight for the glory of their people while King Heremod, whom “evil entered” as he killed his own people, is juxtaposed against the best of the kings, Beowulf.
  • The two main kings of men in Tolkien’s stories, Aragorn and Theoden, are always at the front of the charge in battle and Aragorn is portrayed as one of the most skilled swordsmen in Middle Earth and an incredibly generous king. Lord Denethor, steward of Gondor and King Regent, can be seen as a King Heremod type, as he sends his own son to his death, communicates with Sauron, and eventually commits suicide.
fate wyrd
  • Wyrd or fate was a large part of Anglo-Saxon philosophy. Wyrd is not the “inexorable fate of the Greeks” but is a continuous occurrence. While the Anglo-Saxons of Beowulf’s time may not have had a definitive religion, they certainly believed in a constantly unfolding plan for the lives of men.
  • “Wyrd often saves an undoomed hero as long as his courage is good” (Beowulf)
  • Fate is huge in Tolkien’s books. The Creator God, Iluvatar, has a plan for the unfolding of time from beginning to end. Fate brings the One Ring to many of the ring bearers and it could only be part of a predetermined plan that events in the Hobbit directly affect those in the Trilogy Additionally, in Tolkiens books almost every civilization or great hero meets their own foreshadowed ruin. Perhaps the greatest example of this is Turin Turambar, whose father Hurin is cursed by Morgoth, the lord of evil, who dooms the Children of Hurin, and Turin ends up marrying his sister and killing himself along with all of his friends .
  • “Then the themes of Iluvatar shall be played aright, and take being in the moment of their utterance, for all shall understand fully his intent in their part” (Silmarillion)
  • Tolkien, a devout Christian, didn’t think epic tales should explicitly contain Christianity, which is one of the flaws that he saw in Beowulf and the Arthurian legends.
  • While Tolkien’s books do contain a theology, and he believed that they inevitably related to the Fall and man’s relationship with God, the lives of the inhabitants of Middle Earth are shaped by the concept of wyrd, and not divine intervention, and his form of Judgement Day resembles that of the Norse Ragnarok, where old heroes come back and battle evil.
works cited
Works Cited
  • Ancalagon. "Tolkien and Beowulf." Tolkien and Beowulf. Valar Guild, 2007. Web. 07 Oct. 2012. <>.
  • "Anglo-Saxon Warfare: Good or Evil?" N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Oct. 2012. <>.
  • Heaney, Seamus. Beowulf. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000. Print.
  • "Beowulf: Good Vs. Evil." Bukisa. Bukisa, 20 Sept. 2010. Web. 07 Oct. 2012. <>.
  • Kightley, Michael R. "Heorot or Meduseld?: Tolkien's Use of Beowulf in "The King of the Golden Hall"" HighBeam Research. HighBeam Research, 1 Jan. 2006. Web. 7 Oct. 2012. <>.
  • Tierney-Hynes, Rebecca A. "The Heroic Ethos: Reality and Representation." The Heroic Ethos: Reality and Representation. N.p., 2000. Web. 07 Oct. 2012.
  • <>.
  • Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings,. 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967. Print.
  • Tolkien, J. R. R. 1892-1973., and Christopher Tolkien. The Silmarillion. 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. Print.
  • Tolkien, J. R. R., and Christopher Tolkien. The Tale of the Children of Hurin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007. Print.
  •  "Wyrd: The Role of Fate." Wyrd: The Role of Fate. Octavia, n.d. Web. 07 Oct. 2012.
  • <>.