Beowulf and the Monsters - Literary Essay Sample

Published: 2022-05-30
Beowulf and the Monsters - Literary Essay Sample
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Poem Beowulf
Pages: 8
Wordcount: 2041 words
18 min read

In essence, Beowulf is a renowned warrior and a prince of Geatland, characterized in poetic work based on medieval literature. Apparently, three attacks by monstrous creatures are narrated which involve Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the dragon. His first antagonism with monsters begins with Grendel, the lonely monster that attacks the Danes continuously by the night and eats any human he would land on. Beowulf intention is to save the Danish kingdom from the monster and restore their safety. The encounter with Grendel's mother escalates from the death of Grendel and his mother plots a revenge. The last encounter with the dragon monster emerges later when a slave steals a treasure from the hoard. This paper provides an overview of the battles between Beowulf and the monster, identifying the strongest, hardest, and heroic fight among the three. The paper also highlights how Beowulf develops as a hero and the different ways he employs while fighting each monster.

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Beowulf's Encounter with Grendel

In the poem, A Danish kingdom ruled by King Hrothgar gets terrorized by a monster named Grendel, a shadowy figure whose eyes are described to glow with a grim light and has claws. He is characterized as a humanoid that came from the lineage of the Cain, mentioned in the bible, who after murdering his brother, and is sent away by God as an outcast and fated to wander the world in exile. He is said to go with a shape of a man but he is massively large such that lifting his head would require three warriors. Grendel lives in a gloomy underwater lair beyond the dark moor and has a taste on human flesh. He is described to eat every entity of his victims and fights without weapons or armor in frenzied attacks that leaves a dozen dead.

On hearing about Hrothgar's problem with the monster, Beowulf, from Geatland, offers to kill it for a reward from the Danish king, and as well earn a place in the Danish history. Beowulf and his thirteen men arrive on the shores of Denmark on the day when Danes were holding a feast. When Danes go retires to bed, Beowulf men wait in Heorot. Grendel comes in creeping amongst the men who were sleeping and ate one among them. When he goes reaching for his next victim, he finds himself grappling with Beowulf. On this encounter, he realizes that he was facing a strong rival. As Symons (2018) quotes,

"He had not met in the world, in any corner of the earth, a greater handgrip in another man" (II. 751-53).

The monster who had begun the evening feasting on human flesh found his own sinews snapped, bone-lock burst (II. 817-18). Beowulf strikes and fights the monster with his bare hand tearing off the monster's arm while the monster flees but Beowulf never gives up his grip and is left holding the monster's hand, arm and shoulder. The monster runs to his cave sustaining severe injuries which make him bleed to death. Beowulf emerges from this fight a hero and this gets to be a heroic fight against a monster, however, this encounter is only a beginning of Beowulf troubles with monsters.

Beowulf Faces Grendel's Mother

The very night Grendel sustains serious injuries, the Danes gets stricken again. This time it's Grendel mother seeking vengeance. Her appearance is described to be similar to that of Grendel only that it's in the likeness of a woman (I. 1351). She also shows uniqueness in her attacks differ in that rather than complete destruction and malice that Grendel used to cause, she kills one Dane before fleeing with her son's injured arm. Beowulf and his troop follow trails of blood which leads them to the lake that boils and glows where they come across the head of the man who was murdered by Grendel's mother lying ashore, which was a provocative sign by a monster. Beowulf swims to the monster's burrow which was a cave close to the size of any Mead hall. In all this conflict, Grendel's mother is motivated by vengeance for her son and her main interest is killing Beowulf.

When Beowulf reaches close to the bottom of the lake, the monster snatches him and pulls him into the cave. The cave is described to be poorly lit, and weapons hanged from the wall and Grendel's body could be seen laying. This fight turns out to be very challenging and the hero, Beowulf, almost loses the fight to Grendel's mother. This monster is observed to have well-developed skills in fighting and using weapons. She attempts to cut Beowulf's with claws and hurt him with a rusty dagger but his shackle guards him. She tries to plunge his head off but her teeth can't go past his helmet. Beowulf reaches for a giant's sword and pierces the monster by her throat, through her neck, and consequently breaks the neck bone (Acocella). Her blood makes the sword to melt and only a hilt is left. He beheads Grendel and carries the head and the hilt of the sword along with him back ashore where his men await him. The man Grendel's mother targets, Escher, are Hrothgar's closest advisor whose attack is meant to match the loss of her only son.

Beowulf's Encounter with the Dragon Monster

The final monster emerges later in Beowulf's life when he is an aged king ruling in Geatland, a position he had risen to after the death of his uncle. This time, Beowulf is called upon to defend his people from a fire-breathing dragon (II. 2250-2207). The dragon happens to be the most conventional of the three monsters he faces and his encounter with this dragon emerges as his strongest fight. This dragon monster comes into context to cause harm in the kingdom after a golden cup it has been protecting for three hundred years is stolen from his cave. The dragon gets very angered and descends on Getish land and incinerates it.

During his encounter with the dragon, Beowulf attacks the monster with his sword as he did with Grendel's mother but it does not hurt the dragon. The dragon bites his neck and blood gush out. Wiglaf, one of the young knights in Gatland who had secretly followed Beowulf to the fight, rushes forth and stabs the dragon. Beowulf, now at an advantage, rips up the dragon to its death, after which he also dies. To this regard, Symons (2018, n.p) quotes;

"He clearly understood that the forest wood could not help him, the wooden shield against the flames. The foremost prince would have to endure the end of his transitory days, his life in the world, and the dragon with him" (II. 2339-43)

Beowulf dies beside the corpse of his final monstrous foe while gazing at, a mound in which the dragon lived. (II. 2794-2820)

Apart from allowing Beowulf prove his heroism, the dragon poses a literal threat to the people. Hrothgar informs his people, earlier in the poem against dangers of greed and he rewards Beowulf with gifts and weapons. The motivation behind the havoc caused by the three monsters differs. Grendel's mother is motivated by vengeance which in a society defined by loyalty leads to violence, destruction, and instability. Grendel's on his account is seen to be driven by jealousy which is fuelled by the status that he is a loner and cannot be as happy as the humans are. The acts of these monsters demonstrate behaviors that threaten to tear down social fabric of which peace is elemental. Greed, feuding or social isolation are negative elements identified to threaten the peace of Beowulf' society as portrayed by the behaviors of the monsters.


Beowulf as artistic work has been subject to criticism. The most renowned critic is one of J.R.R Tolkien which compelled scholars to consider Beowulf as a serious work of art. In Tolkien's perspective, Beowulf is about the tragedy of a short-lived mortal life of mankind in which he faces the hostility of the world and gets overthrown over time in an inevitable way (Tolkien 2). Tolkien considers other critics to have foregone the poem's meaning, death, and defeat, in preference to studying about how factual Beowulf was. According to Celtic (1), Tolkien focuses more on the monster characters in the poem, unlike other critics. Tolkien view is that without the monsters in the context of Beowulf, there is no hero either (Tolkien 2). It is argumentatively correct that the heroin Beowulf could never be realized if there were no monsters for him to fight.

As per criticism by Pavao, a community is an essential element of analyzing this poem. In this context, Beowulf speaks in the language of Danes and the Geats during his encounters with Grendel and his mother, and the dragon respectively. This element is seen as being an associative factor between the hero and the community he fights for. Another link to a community is the purpose for which Beowulf fights the monsters. In all the three encounters, Beowulf fights to ensure the survival of the community. Beowulf presents the role of a person who would arise in time of need to help a suffering community.

In Tolkien's argument, the monsters had different levels of strengths and varying types so that a heroic character can be built. Soltic (4) elaborates the argument by detailing that the weakest monster should be phrased to appear first. This is a strategic approach that is meant to enable a hero to build a foundation of his heroism by first conquering the weak monster. The strongest monster should appear last when the hero is already established and experienced. The strong monster, however, should at least injure the hero but leave him strong enough to retaliate. The monster should lead to the end of the hero's life as a warrior.

Beowulf is plot fits into this structure as it can be observed that in Beowulf's encounter with Grendel, there is certainty that Beowulf will conquer Grendel despite being young. In contrast, when Beowulf faces the dragon, even himself is presented to be doubting his chances of winning over the dragon. At this point, the fight is not framed on suspicion and it can be expected that the hero may fall during or after this encounter.

The manner in which the story about the monsters and Beowulf are analogous to other works done by Tolkien like 'The Hobbit' and cases where it's the weaker monster that comes first when the hero is still young and most probably without experience (Soltic 5). Also, monsters are observed to grow their strengths and get wiser as the hero as well grows up and becomes more experienced. Grendel is described as fierce, unblessed creature who is unwanted among the human. He is linked with Cain who was outcast and in a similar way, Grendel is said to reside in a filthy isolated cave. According to Laguna (20), Grendel as a monster is used in the poem to display opposition. He is described to be driven by jealousy and stands out in opposition to the orderly community.

Another spectacular trait of Grendel is that he is not accurately classified. This adheres to Cohen's argument that monsters avoid being categorized and are unsociable creatures. Grendel is characterized as a monster by his appetite for human flesh. As Laguna (20) quotes from Cohen (1992,61), "cannibalism is the ultimate violation of a divinely ordained host-guest relationship. The graphical depiction, down to a catalog of devoured bodily fragments, increases the deviance of the actions by creating an extended visualization of the scene". In this context, the man-eating trait of Grendel motivates him to eat humans, including a buried warrior.

This is observed to contradict the ideology that in Christian culture, a dead body is buried as a connotation of rest, while the soul departs the body. The body is supposed to be left until such a time when it shall resurrect but if eaten by a monster, as in the case of the warrior in the poem, one is believed to be transformed into a monstrous nature. Laguna (21) argues that this monster takes the role of representing a different culture and as a tool of prohibition that warns the society of practices that are forbidden and are bound to be wiped out.

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