Reading Beowulf, Magnifying Christ
What Tolkien Taught Me About the Gospels
I first read Beowulf as a sophomore in college. At the time, what I knew of the poem was what most high-school kids know—that Beowulf was a Germanic superhero who killed some monsters, but that was about it. So being a young, inquisitive, literary type, I was greatly excited to be reading the poem for a British literature survey class at Vanderbilt in 1988.
I was not prepared for the disappointment. After Our Hero dispatches two monsters, Grendel and his mother (the Grendelkin), to save the court of the aged King Hrothgar of the Danes, the poem fast-forwards some fifty years to the hero's last days. Fifty years! With the turn of a page, Beowulf is an old man. Even so, he is still heroic, venturing out to hack at the head of yet another monster, the firedrake, fighting for his own doomed people, the Geats, until the very end. But still, skipping ahead fifty years seemed jarring, even to an undergraduate in a survey course.
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