Of Kings and Heroes


Not all those who wander are lostI have a small writing assignment for Tuesday. The professor has asked us to write a two-page response to the poem “Beowulf.” I haven’t read it yet, though I read the first few hundred lines in class today. The professor doesn’t want  a response on the poem in its entirety, but asked us students to choose a certain aspect or concept of it to expound and comment on.

He gave a few ideas of what angle to come from:

  • Contrasting the depiction of “hero” versus “king”
  • Looking at the concept of heroism and what it means to be a hero
  • Judging the depiction of women and the contrast between “good” and “bad” women
  • Contrasting the spirits of men throughout antiquity and men today; what has changed and what is the same

The professor then spoke for a while about the strong Christian message in the poem, bringing in the point that the story was not originally a Christian story yet was written down by a monk and therefore a Christian angle was forced into the story. In a half-hour period, the professor ridiculed the concept of good and evil, pointed out the hypocrisy of Christianity, and stated that the story of Cain and Abel was a mythological tale based on the age-old conflict between herdsmen and agricultural peoples. Every time he read a part of the poem that mentioned God or the main protagonist being sent by God or endowed by God, the professor’s voice and inflection bore strong mocking undertones. It was obvious by the end of my second class where the faith of this teacher rests … or rather, where it doesn’t.

I’m not “dissing” my professor, and actually I thought his point of view helped me realize a few insights about the poem. He mentioned the strange angle where the hero was bold and brave and strong, yet still claiming he would only win because of God’s power and anointing upon him. It seemed almost a false humility – a hypocritical one – where the hero stated his faith in God, yet his actions were different. Time and again, the professor spoke of the blatant, yet insincere Christian mores throughout the poem.

I wrote down a few thoughts while he was speaking. This is “raw” and unpolished. I might use some of it in my response on Tuesday:

Although it is meant to be a Christian poem, with the mores of Christianity and good versus evil, even back then the concept of true Christianity had been butchered – the depths or truths wrested and remolded to suit the belief system and culture of that day. The glory of war and bloodshed, feuds and fighting are placed on a pedestal, when the Founder of real Christianity stated, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” They place emphasis on pride and honor and strength and might when Jesus hung naked, beaten and humiliated, on a tree. The “rood” spoken of in the other poem [The Dream of the Rood] was not glorious; it was a symbol of ultimate sacrifice.

Then, as now in many places, Christianity was warped to suit the culture, belief structure – and ultimately the nature of man.

One part of the poem shows the hero bringing a veritable army with him, remarkable armory, amazing weapons to where someone stated he had never seen such an impressive sight. Whoever “changed” this story when they tried to make it a “Christian” tale might have done better to just start over with a whole new concept … because again, it doesn’t fit with the true (though often overlooked) concept of Christianity. Jesus did not come with armies and glory to impress and bring honor upon Himself. He came alone. Unarmed. That was true humility, rather than false humility. God and Creator taking on the form of man, weak and frail, to bring hope to mankind.

I didn’t have time to write more, but I’ll post my actual response when I complete it. It might have some from what I came up with today, or I might feel led to go in an entirely different direction. As you read this, feel free to comment and let me know what you think.

Oh, and when I got home, I checked Facebook and a good friend posted this quote from Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. For some reason, as I read, it clicked and connected with the frame of mind I was in after writing about “Beowulf.” We are impressed by gold and glamour, by strength and might … all the while the crownless King wandered unnamed and unknown. But one day, one day that will change in the twinkling of an eye, when “The crownless again shall be king.”

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.” 
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

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4 comments on “Of Kings and Heroes

  1. good comments. I have been thinking of the same ideas after watching the 1st episode of Game of Thrones. What a contrast is his worldview to Tolkien’s. In Tolkien’s world view, evil is very powerful, but the light and good prevail and are stronger. In Game of Thrones, there are no heroes (or they are killed and defeated), and humanity is doomed to corruption, vice, and violence with no hope or good triumphing. I have one suggestion I have been studying a slew of scriptwriting books and they all say the same thing (check John Truby and Robert McKee for example). that is: all stories show us “this is the way we should live.” or not live by bad example. Every story reflects the philosophy of the author, so it should not be surprising that a Christian slant was given to Beowulf, even as it is not surprising that an agnostic gives his negative and pessimistic world view in Games of Thrones. Just because we don’t agree with the plot, a story should be judged not by the world view (philosophy) of the author but by the same criteria given to all stories which are: believability, character change, and a satisfying resolution to the problem given without deus ex machina. It is obvious that your professor has his worldview which clashes sharply with a monk of that era. A question could be put to the professor – ‘if you were copying and changing (adapting) the text, what would your plot be?” the monster winning and the kingdom destroyed? Plot is worldview. Words like: ‘forced’ into the story, show an ignorance of all story, as if it was a bad thing to force a story into your view (especially if it is a Christian one). All story is ‘forced’ or shaped by the author’s view of life and philosophy – this is an established fact recognized by those who study and know story structure. See professor Joseph Campbell’s book Hero of a Thousand Faces. This is known as the hero’s journey and is the basis for virtually all movies and books popular today and since stories began.

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    • Bonita Jewel says:

      Very good observations! I know my own writing has been shaped greatly by some of my favorite authors, so that definitely makes sense.
      I’ve had some really interesting conversations with other authors about “The Hero’s Journey.” It’s amazing just how many stories fall into that category, including The Story of stories, if you really think about it.

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      • also, everyone is struggling with living their philosophy and beliefs – look at the communists. That is the dilemma we all face. So, don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. Some people look for contradictions between beliefs and lifestyles, for another reason – to discredit the philosophy – they are not connected.

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  2. […] week I blogged about a writing assignment in one of my classes. I used the thoughts I had written down and posted in my writing response … and received […]

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