We’ve been reading Beowulf in my British Literature class. For me it is like The Odyssey, I like discussing themes and from the literature, but don’t enjoy reading the actual literature itself. I don’t tend to go for the macho male hero who blinds cyclopses or disarms ambiguous monstrosities for my pleasure reading, but again I think the themes are very valuable.
The third story of Beowulf is particularly intriguing to those who have read The Hobbit. Tolkien was, of course, a big fan of Beowulf, and was actually responsible for bringing that story back into our curriculum. And the parallels between Beowulf and The Hobbit are so blatant sometimes. One very important theme in both stories is the idea of ‘the little guy’ becoming a hero, the one that nobody suspects, the one that seems far too naive and powerless. Have I ever told you that one of my favorite moments of The Hobbit movie is when Bilbo stands between the pale orc and the fallen Thorin? It’s a beautiful moment.
Another… motif, if you will, is the dragon. Dragons are the manifestations of greed (we see this in The Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis as well). I found this quite interesting, mostly because it made me think about fairy tales– which we have been discussing in my Children’s Literature class. For instance, one of the motifs in Snow White is the mirror, which is the perfect symbol for vanity. And that could be considered one of the themes of Snow White, vanity and envy. Both, of course, are as prevalent in today’s culture as they were back when the tales were first spun. These are human weaknesses that persist through time, which perhaps is why we still have that kind of literature today.
It gets the imagination going, you know? You start to wonder if we have recognizable symbols for other weaknesses, like pride, selfishness, revenge, deceit, and so on. And you also start to notice that different objects, symbols, or motifs can apply to lots of different stories. For instance if we went back to the mirror; that can belong to Snow White’s Evil Stepmother, or it could belong to Narcissus. Or, the mirror is a bridge between worlds, like Through the Looking Class. Lots of stories involve these sort of seemingly ordinary ‘bridges,’ like a rabbit hole, a wardrobe, or a cyclone. It’s just so fascinating to see how it is all woven together, and then wonder what you can do with a structure that already exists.