Kresge library is behind me. I can also post a pic of my OU ID if need be.
I was happy with what I was able to accomplished over the break. I’m in a pretty good spot on the project, now that I’ve long collected, read and analyzed my lit criticisms and wrote all those abstracts in addition to writing the annotations and the intro to annotations. I’m really just left with writing an intro and documenting my sources. I feel the project has strangely led me to develop a deeper understanding for this one poem of Beowulf than I did for other books that we read in class, and I think part of the reason for that was that this project made us critically think about what we were reading and left us to our own devices to really connect our ideas. I feel I can speak coherently about the book in the most basic sense, but I also feel there is a whole lot of research out there that remains to be read and understood about the poem - things that would be simply outside the scope of the project, for after all, I’m not doing a graduate thesis or anything on the poem. I feel the annotations that I extracted were very good representations of the poet’s genius and his influences, as well as descriptive of his artistic vision. Even so, I can’t help but feel that each annotation I did went considerably outside the scope of the passage itself, but only because there are so many ideas and extraneous bits of information that enrich the understanding of that small portion I extracted. I may need to do some preening where I become rather over-excited and go above the upper limit of acceptable detail. I’m also a little confused in my Intro to annotations, which sounds incredibly profound, in the sense that if I extended my discussion only slightly I could use that paper as an general intro itself spanning 4 to 5 pages. I’m not sure I totally understand the real difference between the two introductory pieces. I wonder if I can adapt most of the annotations intro into my general intro. I think I’m on track to turn in my file at the end of next week, or the beginning of the next after that.
So this blog post was needed for quite a while, and I made quite a lot of progress so far. Beowulf is turning out to be quite a complex and involved story, and it is has really helped to read literary criticism that provides some good ideas on how to interpret the text. In fact, it’s almost like Mr. Kreinbring is telling me how everything works without asking me annoying questions like “how does that work?”. I guess I’m happy I can answer those questions by myself. Obviously, I’ve already found my literary criticisms, and I’ve read through and written abstracts for 3 of them. I actually got my stuff online and never had to go to the library because I go to OU and can check out material remotely, allowing me to get electronic pdfs of the articles I needed. I’m going to read a fourth article and write it’s abstract because of how broad Beowulf criticism is. I’m afraid my project file might not be able to achieve a proper focus of the text, so I’m reading a fourth paper just to confirm the most important aspects of the poem. I can already see I’m going to have trouble with background sources through, because my “book” doesn’t have a real author. I might need to get a little creative. Also, one of the articles I read suggested a theory about the poem that has been adapted to Hollywood editions of the poem, so I think I’ll be doing some movie watching - more on that later…
As a final post to the “Reading the Work” period of my Lit project, I decided to compare the entirety of Beowulf’s plot events to The Hero’s Journey, a theory of literature developed by Joseph Campbell. I intend on using some scholarly analysis to back up my ideas here when I write them in my Introduction, but for now I’m going to use a summary I found at http://www.thewritersjourney.com/hero’s_journey.htm
The Hero’s journey starts with a description of the Hero’s world, a call to duty, and the refusal of that call. Beowulf fits these three beginning stages well - except for the caveat that the Hero himself (or herself) is usually presented with some polarity. It’s difficult to say what this polarity is for Beowulf - he’s shown as an un-flawed character. My theory here that the polarity that exists in Beowulf’s world is the Iliad’s “war epic complex”. There is the question of why Beowulf chooses to do these dangerous things - is it for the treasure, or is it for the respect among his people and society? Taking this as a working theory, let’s move forward.
The Hero’s Journey then proceeds as the Hero meets with a mentor, crosses into the threshold, and meets allies or undergoes tests. Again, the arc of Beowulf closely follows this trail, expect the “mentor” stage is slightly out of order and difficult to place. As said before, Beowulf is portrayed as a flawless warrior, one who has a considerable resume. It may be that Beowulf’s “mentor” is the recounting and reminding of these prior experience that gives reassurance to the Danes when he arrives there.
The Hero’s Journey continues as The Ordeal, the reward, and the Road back happen. Beowulf’s arc still follows closely to this Journey. The Ordeal consist of the Grendel fights, and he is adopted and well rewarded with riches for his deeds. In deeper analysis, one could argue that Beowulf, by being adopted, gained a foothold in Danish heritage and therefore became a figurative conqueror or ruler of the Danes through his deeds. I’ve also previously touched on the symbolism of Beowulf’s departure from the Danes, and how it paralleled the funeral service in the beginning of the book. The Road back would also include the events that caused Beowulf to become king of Geats and the 50-year interlude to pass.
The Journey ends with the Resurrection climax and the “Return with the Elixir. These are the only two stages that arguably opposite of what they are supposed to be. The Resurrection deals with the final climax and resolve of the polarity in the character. This doesn’t happen with Beowulf when he fights the Dragon. He goes to fight alone, and he doesn’t even fully conquer the evil, but rather gets mortally wounded. It sort of ends his “streak” of victories and in his dying breath, he asks his comrade to show him some treasure before he dies. So in that sense the duality still exists - Beowulf wanted the glory of the victory to himself (war culture values) but also wanted the physical treasure and reward, asking for the gold to buried with him in the. And rather than returning an “elixir” to his people, he dooms them instead, leaving them leaderless, and defenseless in the midst of several tribes who blood feuds with the Geats and are just waiting for a chance to retaliate. This dump of the most crucial part of the journey really causes me to wonder if Beowulf fits the definition of a Hero, or a lustful Dare-Devil. I think this question will be one the central issues of my research as well as the significance of the cultural and historical background of Beowulf to it’s story. Time to do the hard part - writing the project.
This post marks 4/5 progress into Beowulf. This part of the poem, in my opinion, isn’t very exciting or action packed as the rest of the story is, but is does have some unique elements that help continue the story. This chunk of the poem really just accounts Beowulf leaving the Danes, coming back to his Geatish homeland and recounting his adventures to the king. There’s a lot of talk about blood feuds and wars between different tribes - which seem to start for almost no reason. But before we get to that, some the literary criticism has indicated that there’s something that’s interestingly constructed in Beowulf’s departure from the Danes. His departure parallels that of the first King that was spoken of (something with an S), whose dead body was left out onto sea in a boat with lots of treasure. When the king left his people like this, they were left without a leader and were going to fall on hard times. This is paralleled with Beowulf’s departure (who by the way was recently adopted by Hrothgar and is technically a guardian of the Danes), as he leaves with lots of treasure. We also find out later, as Beowulf talks about his experiences of the very possible invasion of the Danish tribe in the near future, during which Hrothgar would be killed. So essentially, Beowulf is linked with that old ancestor, and maybe something more to the Danish. We’ll see a similar parallel occur for a third time when Beowulf himself dies, leaving his people leaderless.
Anyway, going back to the Blood feuds, this was really the first time that I was made aware of such things called blood feuds in Beowulf’s world. The relation I can draw is from the mythical world of the Iliad, and the way that families and tribes attached themselves to stronger warlords and usually were caught in an endless cycle of fighting due to the war-culture of ancient Greece. I guess in a similar way, the blood feuds are destroying the Swedes and the Scandinavians. There’s a lot of linage-recounting that are part of the blood feuds which really confused me because I couldn’t keep track of whose son was who, and who killed who and where these people all lived. I think there are probably some underlying themes that contribute importance to the poem in their own right, but I won’t be able to fully understand them without looking at scholarly studies. I do think, however, that to understand the blood feuds, it may be necessary to put Beowulf under a cultural and historical microscope, rather than simply enjoying the work as I have been doing. I’ve got literary criticism to argue both side of this approach, including Tolkein’s “The Monsters and the Critics”.
This post marks about 3/5 progress into the book, which is essentially Beowulf’s fight with Grendel’s mother. Some similarities to be noted between this fight and the one with Grendel: Beowulf goes at it alone. Apparently he can be like a fish and hold his breath for hours at a time underwater. So he troops with a whole army to the lair of Grendel’s mother, but then goes in to take her on alone. In addition, Beowulf uses his hands. Again, he forgoes the Armour a sensible warrior would wear and goes in with a sword that - not surprisingly - breaks. I read somewhere that the monster fights with the Grendel family are supposed to be easy. They are supposed to bring out Beowulf’s great warrior qualities and glorify his strength with battles are difficult, but not as much that he can’t defeat he enemies. This seems to provide some explanation as to why the poet decided to write in a second monster fight with Grendel’s mother. It’s odd plot development to have because the audience isn’t really expecting it and Beowulf had already defeated Grendel, the original Monster. An explanation that I can sort of form here is that Grendel’s mother was the poet’s way of “finishing off the job right”. When Beowulf fights Grendel, he really doesn’t kill him on the spot, but rather mortally wounds him. When he goes to fight Grendel’s Mother though, he also beheads Grendel’s dead body - a more symbolic act, I think - as if he is finishing the battle to the end. Although the theory seems interesting, I’m going to have to look at some literary criticism to fully develop the idea. I plan to head to OU tomorrow after class.
In the meantime I was looking through the world-wide inter-web for modern adaptions of Beowulf. I found some movies, but really only two works that came close to the story’s actual plot without completely deconstructing it. I found Beowulf & Grendel (2005) and Beowulf (2007). The 2007 movie was animated and completed the plot arc but with some big shifts - Beowulf is a flawed character who has sexual relations with Grendel’s Mother who comes back to haunt him when he has to kill the Monster she gave birth to. It does provide an explanation to the entrance of Grendel’s mother but does so at the expense of the poem’s original balance and thematic messages. The first movie I listed (2005) seemed to be a more accurate depiction and had more “substance”, at the expense of leaving out the part about the dragon. I might actually see this movie instead, even though it’s less recent and incomplete. It will be interesting to see a modern and updated version of the text and compare thematic similarities to text. It will definitely provide insight to the thematic properties of Heroic definition developed in Beowulf.
So this post would mark abut two-fifths progress into the book. There isn’t too much change from last time, only that Beowulf is still coming off as arrogant and overly-confident in his attitude Although I have to say, there was some balance in his fight with Grendel - the balance I think to which Tolkien was referring to in his essay. Up to the point when he fights with Grendel, Beowulf is totally convinced about his talent and ability to fight and kill the monster. Part of this is a formal boast which I think is more part of a warrior’s tradition, and less of him actually ringing his cup or something and making a formal speech at the dinner table. Anyway, when Beowulf actually fights Grendel, he cannot kill him on the spot. The creature is strong enough to escape with its life from Beowulf, but Beowulf is able to just scratch a victory because the wound he did inflict was fatal - it will bring Grendel to a slow, inevitable death. Looking with foresight (remembering that I’ve actually already read the book), the same theme occurs with the other two monster battles.
Also a a particular feature of interest, I’ve noticed that the poet of Beowulf liked to make some interesting tangents, Sometimes he’ll drop a one-liner quote of wisdom. Here’s one that I picked that also had some foreshadow of Beowulf’s death:
“But death is not easily
escaped from by anyone:
all of us with souls, earth-dewllers
and children of men, must make our way
to a destination already ordained
where the body, after banqueting,
sleeps on its deathbed”
What also is odd with this quote is that it’s dropped while they’re celebrating Grendel’s demise. - Again, it supports the idea of balance between plot elements. So far the book seems a little old, but it really requires imagination and contemplation to get the most out of this book. Next time: analysis on film adaptions of Beowulf…
This post marks the first of the posts that account my reading of Beowulf. As I type this, I’ve actually read through the entire book, but I took periodic notes, and will simply present my thought process as I read this book of the course of a week.
Going back to how I found this book, I was researching J.R.R. Tolkien on the hopes of doing some middle-earth-related fantasy for my project. I instead found his “groundbreaking” essay - “Monsters and the Critics” which was apparently equivalent of Einstein’s total reversal on Newtonian concepts of space and time in the world of Literature. Going into this book with that impression, I was honestly expecting some profound piece of literature. What I got was something between that and It’s opposite. One the first things I noticed was Beowulf’s actual character, which didn’t really fit into my model of hero - he was very over-confident, such that was a bit off-putting. Of course, this struck me as interesting because the fact that Beowulf didn’t match my definition of a hero meant that heroism was defined differently in this society. So a central question becomes, is Beowulf an un-flawed hero? ( and perhaps a comparison of modern-day values vs. Beowulf era values). I’ll probably get some more support once I read some research.
Another effect I was seeing was the constant reference to an Almighty god. Now before reading Beowulf, one the things I read about the book was that pre-Tolkien, literary research was really interested in the cultural environment the author wrote the book in, and why did the author, supposedly being a christian, write about pagan Swedish gods? Tolkien explanation was that the author was simply an imaginative poet, but I think it would be interesting to look at evidence to the contradictory. Even Seamus Heaney, the translator of the edition I’m reading, mentions that some lines of the poem show some influence of the poet’s religion. It seems like another issue worth looking into when I start researching. For now, I guess I will continue to read the book. I have a suspicion that my study of the Iliad is going to inevitably influence the way I read this poem, but I wonder if that is such a bad thing…
So I’ve done some moderate investigating and personal reflecting…I really went off of the first discussion with Mr. K. I picked up the Tolkien thread and looked at some Arthurian works, particularly Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I think I’m basically snooping around the hero story genre, seeing as most of the literature I read a a young adult was this high fantasy hero stuff. Gawain turned out to be a dead end. The text seemed hard and I simply wasn’t feeling the vibe of the book. Plus, when I tried to research some scholarly work I wasn’t seeing some common threads and themes in the poem (at least nothing interesting). I picked up Tolkien and researched him, eventually ending up the Wikipedia page of his biography, from which I ran across one of his more known analytic writing/research on an old English poem called Beowulf. Tolkein’s own critical acclimation received substantial acclaim. I decided to dig deeper for this Beowulf thing. What I got from it was a hard text, but one that apparently has been heavily researched. It was still a hero’s story and there was an interesting question that seemed to a big subject of all the research: Why did Christian English people write a fictional legend about pagan beasts? It was an interesting question, and although I’m a little hesitant about the difficulty of the text, I feel I can make this work. I’m probably going to choose Beowulf as my book, but if it doesn’t work out I always have the familiar text of The Hobbit to fall back on.
I talked to Mr. Krienbring today about what book I should read for the AP Lit final project. I wasn’t really sure walking into the conversation of what I was looking for. Up to that point I decided to either pick some fiction from a war era setting, or something from a medieval setting. When he asked me what I liked to read, I replied with the first thing in my head, which was the medieval thought. When asked to elaborate I fell back to the kind of fiction I used to drool over as a young kid: fantasies with magic, swords, and good old Knightly chivalry. From that we quickly brainstormed a couple ideas: Tolkien was a great option by Mr. K, and so was King Arthur. He said the only thing to watch out for on fantasy literature was that there wasn’t a lot of scholarly research about these kinds of stories. Of the two choices, I would really like to read Tolkien because I like the way he writes, but for sake of scholarly background, I may choose an older piece of literature - perhaps something related to the Nights of Templar or King Arthur or (as Mr. K suggested) Gilgamesh. Perhaps a comparison to modern ideas of chivalry and duty are in the making…. I suppose the thought process is going to take a little more research.