Grendel and Grendel’s Mother Don’t Survive Beowulf’s Final Cut: Book XXIII – Book XXIV

Beowulf and his band of Geats carrying Grendel's head.

Beowulf and the Geats haul Grendel’s head back to Heorot. J. R. Skelton – Marshall, Henrietta Elizabeth (1908) Stories of Beowulf, T.C. & E.C. Jack.
Image found at: http://bit.ly/2frmbiU

XXIII

He saw then, in the sea-hag’s armoury, a sword blessed by victory,
a sword of giants’ craft from elder days, a sword strong of edge,
ready for a warrior’s glory; that was the best of weapons.
But it was more than any other man
would have strength to bear into the dance of battle,
superb and splendid, the handiwork of giants.
Beowulf seized that belted hilt, the Scylding warrior,
he was fierce and fatally grim, and when he drew that ring-patterned sword
Grendel’s mother had no hope of further life. He angrily struck her,
such that the sword caught slickly at the base of her neck,
slipped in to shatter her vertebra; indeed the sword passed through
her entire, doomed body. That she-monster crumpled to the floor,
the sword sweating blood, the man rejoicing in his work.
A light then shone, brightened the hall from within,
made it as bright as the great candle
set in the heavens. He looked about the hall;
turned toward the far wall, with weapon raised,
its hilt hard up against ambush, Hygelac’s thane,
emboldened and resolute. That edge had proven
all but useless to that fighter, and he sought to use it
to avenge all of Grendel’s awful attacks,
each of the monster’s missions against the West-Danes,
the many more than one occasion when he alone
slunk into Heorot to slay Hrothgar’s hearth-companions
who were all asleep, devoured clawed clutches of Danes
while all slept as if dead,
and made off with as many others,
a loathsome booty. Beowulf paid him his reward,
the fierce fighter, for there he saw laid out
the wounded body of Grendel,
now life-less, his grim energy drained through the injury
he bore from the fight in Heorot. His body was wide open
since he endured that death blow.
One hard sword-stroke severed his head from his body.

Soon those wise men saw,
those who were with Hrothgar watching the water,
that the surging waves were stirred up,
that the water was red with blood. The old ones,
the grey-haired, gathered to speak clearly together
of how that prince down in the deep would not return,
how he who went seeking to be victorious would not
come back to their glorious king; thus they decided
that the she-wolf of the lake had destroyed him.

Then came the ninth hour of the day. To a man
the brave Scyldings left the lake, and with them went
that generous gold-friend. But the strangers stayed to wait,
though sick at heart, and stared at those waters;
they wished and yet could not believe that they would see
their lord and friend in the flesh once more.

          Meanwhile,
back in the cave the sword began, after the blood of battle
spattered the war-icicle, to soften and wane. It was a wondrous sight,
all the blade melting away much like ice
when the Father looses the frost bonds,
unties the waters from their cold-cords, he who has power
over the sowing and the harvest; such is truly the Measurer’s might.
Nothing more did he take from that place, the lord of Weder-Geats,
any valuable things, though he there many did see,
only the head and the hilt both,
the shining treasure; the blade before it melted
was a fire-hardened, damascened edge, but the beast’s blood was too hot,
that alien spirit’s poison, the one which died there.
From there Beowulf was safe and swimming, he who in earlier strife
had called down defeat in his wrath, he climbed through the waters.
The churning waters had been purified,
likewise was the land thereabouts, when that alien spirit
left off her living days and lost her loaned life.
Then came the seafarer to the safety of land,
swimming stout-heartedly, joyous with his sea-spoils,
the amazing burden that he had with him then.
They all flocked to him, thanked god,
that mighty heap of thanes, took delight in their chief,
that they were able to see him safe again.
Then they were busied with the swift unbinding
of helm and byrnie. The lake’s surface stilled,
the sky was again visible within, though dappled in blood.

The troop of them then went forth on the footpath,
rejoicing in the wooded countryside, passing along the trail,
down familiar ways. Those royally brave men
carried the head from the cliffs around the lake,
struggling with it all together,
the very bold. Four of them
balanced the beast’s head on their spear-points
as they carried Grendel’s remains to the gold-hall.
Finally they could see the hall from the hill’s cusp,
the war-like fourteen turned from the road
and the Geats passed into the valley. The lord of battle
was at their heart as they strode through the mead hall’s yard.
Then that weathered warrior strode in,
the man bold in deeds had grown authoritative,
a war-fierce man, he greeted Hrothgar.
By the hair was Grendel’s head then borne
into the middle of the floor, where the warriors drank,
the terror dropped amidst the men and their queen;
a wondrous spectacle in the sight of men.

XXIV

Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow:

“Hear me now, son of Halfdane,
lord of the Scyldings, we who have been to the sea-lake
have brought back booty, a mark of fame, for all here to look upon.
I escaped that choppy conflict,
the war beneath the waters, ventured through
the risky deed; the fight was nearly taken from me,
but God was my shield.
In that struggle I could not bring Hrunting
to bear, though it is a noble weapon;
but the Lord of men allowed
that I might see hanging on the cave wall
a shining magnificent sword of elder-craft — often
will the wise aid the friendless — that I seized and brandished as my own.
Then I slew the she-wolf in that fight, as the hall began to glow around me,
a strangely fortified house. Than that battle blade
burned, the damascened sword, as the creature’s blood struck it,
hottest of battle bloods. I took the hilt out
from the fiend’s remains, the wicked deed avenged,
the death by violence of Danes, as was befitting.
Thence I swear this to you, that you may now
sleep without sorrow in Heorot hall with all your company,
and that each thane of your people,
old nobles and youths alike, they all now have no need to fear,
and nor do you, lord of the Scyldings, for your own portion,
the lives of your folk, as you did before.”

Then was the golden hilt given into the hand
of the old battle-chief, an ancient work of giants
for the aged ruler. It became the possession
of the Danish prince after those devils perished,
the craft of a skilled smith. When the hostile-hearted,
the enemies of God, gave up this world,
guilty of murder, he and his mother gave up that treasure as well.
Thus the hilt came into the power of the worldly king
judged to be the best between the two seas,
a treasure freely given to the Danes.

Hrothgar spoke, as he was shown the hilt,
that old treasure. On it was written the origins
of a great struggle, after the flood had slain many,
sloshed through in torrents, a struggle with giant-kind.
Peril was brought to all. That was a people
estranged from the eternal Lord; from the Almighty
came the final retribution of rising waters.
Thus was the pommel work written upon in gold
with runes properly inscribed,
inset and in-carved, by the one who worked that sword,
what had been the best of blades, first among weapons,
with wire-wound hilt and edge damascened like snakes. Then
the wise one spoke, the son of Halfdane — the hall hushed:

“Indeed, it may be said, by he who upholds
right and truth for his people, for all humanity,
even by the old realm lord, that this man
is born to greatness! Your success is wide-flung
over the sea-ways, my friend Beowulf,
your fame is spread over every people. All you do
is done with steadfastness, strength, and wisdom of heart.
To you I give my lasting honour, as we two had earlier agreed. You shall be
to your people an everlasting pillar and a help to warriors’ hands.

          “Heremod was not so
to the sons of Ecgwelan, the Ar-Scyldings;
he did not grow into joy, but to slaughter,
a death dealer to the Danish people.
With enraged heart he killed table companions
and shoulder comrades alike, until he was truly alone,
he of renown, of power, was away from human joy,
though mighty God had given him all,
raised him in strength, put him ahead of
all other men in all things. Yet in his heart he harboured
secret and cruel bloodthirsty thoughts; never gave he
any rings to the Danes who strove for fame. He lived joylessly,
such that his struggles made him suffer misery,
his life was a long-lasting affliction to his people. By this be taught,
see what is manly virtue! That is why I, wise from many winters,
tell you this tale.”

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Beowulf and Storytelling with Lex Fajardo (Podcast)

Here is episode 2 of Fate Going As It Must: A Beowulf Talk Show! On the show I talk with people who are fans of Beowulf to try to understand how they discovered the poem and why they think it’s still important. Since this is a monthly show, so far there are just two episodes. But I’m planning to release a new episode every month for the next 10 months. The previous episode is here.

My guest on this episode is Lex Fajardo, the creator of the Kid Beowulf comic series. You can find out more about his series at kidbeowulf.com. While chatting with Lex about Beowulf we covered:

  • How Beowulf handles (and mishandles) storytelling
  • Fate (especially fate through blood ties)
  • Beowulf and Grendel: more similar than different
  • The merits of the monsters
  • John Gardner’s Grendel
  • Beowulf as Marvel’s Captain America
  • Kid Beowulf as a way to get people interested in world mythology, world epics

Also, are you curious about the Burton Raffel translation of Beowulf that Lex cites as one of his favourites? If so, you can find some excerpts in a PDF here.

Feel free to leave your thoughts on the show and on the topics covered in the comments. Or, go ahead and answer this question: What epic mythological story would you want to see Beowulf in?

The theme music for the show is:

The Pyre Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Getting a Hand from Grendel: Book X – Book XIII

Grendel terrifyingly looms with his death bag, screaming at Beowulf.

An illustration of Grendel by J.R. Skelton from Stories of Beowulf. Grendel is described as “Very terrible to look upon.” From: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stories_of_beowulf_grendel.jpg.

X

Then from him Hrothgar went among his warrior band,
the prince of the Scyldings left the hall.
The war chief would seek out Wealhtheow,
the queen consort. But the king of heaven had
against Grendel, as people later learned by inquiry,
set a hall guard; one with a special office to fulfill
for the lord of the Danes, a steadfast sentry against monsters.
Indeed that Geatish man eagerly trusted
the courage of his strength, the Measurer’s protection.
Then he did off with his iron corselet,
took the helm from his head, entrusted his ornamented sword,
servant of the best iron, to his men
and he commanded them to keep his war gear.
Spoke he then some good boast words,
Beowulf the Geat, before he laid himself down:

“I consider my own prowess with battle work unbowed
when compared to Grendel;
as Grendel himself slays without sword,
that thief of life, I shall do the same.
He has not the advantage, that he shall slay me,
though he hew away my shield, though he be vigorous in his
evil deed: but we this night should
forego the sword, if he seeks to dare
a battle beyond weapons, and afterwards wise God
shall decide which of us, oh holy Lord,
is worthy of glory, as He deems proper.”

He kept himself bold then, took pillow
to cheek with his band, and he among the many
ready seafarers gave themselves over to hall-rest.
But none of those thought that they should afterward
ever see their dear land again,
their people or their towns, return to where they had been raised.
They all envisioned, through sleep-smeared eyes, those stories
of how things had been in that wine hall, how death had come
for many of those Danish people. But to that hall-guard the Lord gave
woven success in war, the Danes would thank the Weder people,
both would find joy and help, that they the fiend there
would fully overcome through that one’s strength,
by his own might. The truth is shown,
that mighty God rules humankind
always. In the deepest night
came slinking the wanderer in shadow. The warriors slept,
when they should have been holding that hall.
All but one. It was known of many people,
that they might not, as long as the Measurer allowed it not,
be brought to the shadow beneath by the sin-stained,
but that one woke with wrath in enmity
pledged enraged battle to the creeping creature.

XI

Then Grendel came from the moor under misty cliff
bounding. He bore god’s ire,
meant that sinner against humankind
to ensnare some in that humbled hall.
Raging beneath the heavens, he headed to Heorot,
the gold hall best known to men,
shimmering with ornaments. That was not the first time
that he the home of Hrothgar sought out.
But, never had he in earlier days nor afterwards
found a thane so hard in the hall.
When he came to the hall,
the joy of journeying men to rob, the door’s
secure fire-forged bar soon gave way, as he touched it:
it burst open for the one meditating on mischief. Standing at the hall’s mouth,
his own twisted into a raging smile. Quickly then
that fiend on the shining floor trod,
went with hatred at heart; he stood, in his eyes
an unfair light like flame.
Saw he in the hall many men,
a sleeping peaceful host gathered all together,
a heap of youths. Then his heart roared anew.
He intended to sever, before the day returned,
the terrible fierce assailant, from each one of those sleepers
their limb and life, expected he a lavish feast
to come about. Yet such was not set as fate,
that he would be allowed more of mankind
to taste during that night. The mighty looked on,
kin of Hygelac, to see how the enemy
with his calamitous grip would fare.
That fierce foe gave no thought to yielding,
but he swiftly seized at his first chance
a sleeping warrior, slit through him heedlessly,
bit through bone-locks, drank blood from the veins,
swallowed sinful morsels; soon he had
consumed all of that one,
feet and hands. Forward and nearer he stepped,
his hand grazed against the strong-hearted
warrior at rest — the fiend’s fingers reached
for him. He, the Beowulf, hastily took the arm
and sat up to strengthen his hold.
Soon that master of the wicked deed found one
like none he had ever met in all the earth,
no other in any region of the world
had so great a hand grip. At heart Grendel grew
panicked, feared he might never break free.
In his mind Grendel was eager to escape, wished he could flee to his darkness,
seek and join his devil kin. He could feel that further life for him was not there,
only one like none other he had ever encountered in all his days.
The goodly kin of Hygelac was mindful then
of his evening boast, he stood sternly upright
and secured his grip. His fingers were bursting,
the beast was squirming to escape. The man stepped toward the monster.
That creature intended, whenever he might do so,
to flee to the fen-hollow. Grendel could feel his fingers
loosening under the foe’s grip, it was indeed a terrible journey
that the horrible fiend took to Heorot that night!
The noble hall resounded, all of the Danes,
citizens, each violently stirred,
all awake in broken ale-dream distress. Both within were warring,
fierce were the hall wardens. That room resounded;
it was a great wonder, that the wine hall
held out against those boldly brawling,
that fair house; but it was yet secure
inward and outward in its iron bonds,
skilfully smithed. In there from the floor
were wrenched mead benches many, as I have heard,
each gold adorned, where the hostile ones fought.
Never before thought the wise of the Scyldings
that any man or means ever could be found
to bring the grand and antlered hall down,
destroy it by cunning, unless in the hottest embrace
it was swallowed by flame. Sounds newly rose up
often, horrible fear came over over
the Danes, each and every one of them
heard wailing while outside Heorot’s walls,
a chant of terror uttered by god’s adversary,
it sang of defeat, a wound to sear and sever
the captive of hell. He held him tight,
that man was the greatest in might
all the days of this life.

XII

For nothing at all would Beowulf
allow the death-bringer to leave alive,
he did not consider that one’s days of life of
any worth to anyone anywhere. Then the mobile host
moved swiftly to defend Beowulf with their fathers’ swords,
they wished to defend the very soul of their leader,
those of the famed people, where they might do so.
But they knew not that their work was in vain,
the tough-spirited war-men,
that each man’s looking to hew the beast in half was faulty,
their seeking his soul with the sword point unsuccessful: that sin-laden wretch,
by even the best iron in or on the earth,
by any battle bill, could not at all be touched,
for he had forsworn the use of any weapon of war,
each and every edge. Yet his share of eternity
in the days of this life
would be agonizing, and the alien spirit
into the grasp of fiends would journey far.
Then the one who in earlier days had
completely changed the heartfelt mirth of man
for transgression — the one who sinned against god —
realized that his body would not endure,
for the spirited kin of Hygelac
had him firm in hand; as long as each of those fighters was living
he was hateful to the other. What a wound
endured the terrible creature: his shoulder split
into an open and immense red mouth, sinews sprung loose,
bone joints split. Beowulf was given
war glory; whereas Grendel would thence
flee with his mortal wound to the fen cliffs
seeking out a joyless home. He knew for certain,
that his life was coming to an end,
his days were now numbered. Every one of the Danes’
wishes were fulfilled after that deadly onslaught.
That place had been cleansed, after that one from afar arrived,
clever and brash, at the hall of Hrothgar,
rescued it from strife. Gladdened by his night work,
fodder for the flame of fame for courage, that man of Geatish
folk had fulfilled his boast to the Danes,
had cured a great wound,
parasitical sorrow, that had earlier been a daily part
of the misery they were to suffer —
no little grief. It was an open token,
when the war-fierce one placed the hand,
arm and shoulder — there all together was
Grendel’s grip — under the broad roof.

XIII

It was that morning, as I have heard,
when to that gift-hall came many warriors;
chieftains marching from regions ranging
far and near to see that wonder,
the remnants of the resented one. None of those there
thought upon that one’s death sorely,
where the trail of the fame-less transgressor showed
how he went with weary-heart on his way,
the evil that was overcome, to the water-sprites of some pond,
the fated and fugitive leaving a trail of lifeblood.
There they guessed the water swelled with blood,
there repulsive waves surged, all mingling,
hot with gore, sword-blood tossing;
there the fated to die hid, when he, joy-less,
in fen refuge laid aside his life,
his heathen soul. From there hell took him.
Afterwards the old war-wagers went out,
so too did many youths go on that merry journey,
from the sea high-spirited horses they rode,
warriors on their steeds. There was Beowulf’s
glory retold; many oft spoke of it,
that in neither north nor south between the two seas
was there any other such man on all the face of the earth,
and under the sky’s expanse was there no better
shield bearer, one worthy of kingship.
Though they indeed found no blame with their lord and friend,
gracious Hrothgar, for he was a good king.
Meanwhile the battle-reputed let the horses trot,
in contests the bay horses sped,
there they found the path quite fair,
they thought it best. Around one of the king’s thanes
was a man made of stories, mindful of many tales,
such that he was in old tradition
immersed, bound words one to the other
according to appropriate meter. The man began again
of Beowulf’s struggle to smartly sing
and quickly made a new narrative account,
wrangled words. Of everything he spoke,
what he of Sigemund had heard said,
deeds of courage, many not widely known.
He spoke of the wrangling of Wælsing’s son, Sigemund’s wide wanderings
where that warrior’s child was not often recognized
nor the feud and wicked deed known but to Fitela, the one with him.
For Sigemund would tell Fitela of such things,
from uncle to nephew, as they were always
companions bound by need come every strife;
they had a great many of the giants race
slain with their swords. Sigemund’s fame saw
no small surge after his death day,
after he had in cruel combat killed the dragon,
the hoard’s guardian. Under the grey stone,
the nobleman’s son, alone he dared to do
the dangerous deed; Fitela was not with him then.
Without that comrade he plunged his sword through
the wondrous wyrm, so that it stuck in the wall,
that lordly iron. The dragon died its death.
His courage over the foe won him its treasure fully,
so that he ring hoards had to give
as he saw fit; a boat they loaded,
they bore in the ship’s bosom bright treasures,
Waels’ son; the hot wyrm melted.
[]His fame was pushed most widely
among the nations, protector of warriors,
for deeds of courage — he prospered from then after —
after Heremod retired from war,
his strength and courage. He had his power stolen
when ambushed by the enemy Jutes and his forces
were quickly slain. His sorrow oppressed him
far too long; to his people he waned,
to all his nobles his life grew too full of care.
That campaign was often a source of anxiety for
many wise men before the time of king Heremod’s brash way of life,
it made those miserable who relied on him for relief,
those that wished that every prince would prosper,
receive his patrimony, protect the people,
their stores and their strongholds, be a man of might,
uphold the ancestral home of the Scyldings. Just the same there,
Beowulf, the kin of Hygelac, to all humankind
became a decorated friend. Yet sin still slinked in.
The contending continued among
the tawny mares racing on the sand. By then the morning light
shoved and rushed over the horizon. There came many retainers,
all bold-minded, to that high hall,
to see that strange object; the king himself
from the bed chamber, guardian of the ring-hoard,
walked with a sense of leading an army,
of renowned virtue, and his queen with him
tread the path to the mead hall with her maiden troop.

Twin Peaks and Beowulf!?

Bobby Briggs from Twin Peaks stunned by Beowulf.

We can all share in Bobby’s shock. Image from http://www.gramunion.com/robotbeowulf.tumblr.com/155345786712

Spoilers abound below. If you’re not done with Twin Peaks The Return (or the entire series) just yet, read on at your own risk.

Introduction

It’s human nature to see patterns where there might not be any. It’s also human nature to want to combine the things you love even if they don’t seem likely to mix. That’s where today’s post is coming from.

Having seen and mostly digested Twin Peaks The Return, and being quite familiar with Beowulf, I noticed a few similarities. Especially when it comes to the monsters featured in both works.

Now, I don’t think that these similarities point to any answers in the Twin Peaks universe. Nor do I think that David Lynch is a secret Beowulf fan who wanted to work through the poem’s themes and motifs in his own art. I just noticed that there are some similarities between the oldest piece of English literature and the newest piece of television art.

And I want to share them with my readers.

This comparison will go through the monsters of Beowulf since that’s where the meat of this is. Though a case could be made that Lynch’s at times directionless-seeming storytelling is quite similar to Beowulf‘s asides and loosely related side stories.

There is one Twin Peaks theory at work in this comparison. This is the idea that the ancient evil force that Gordon Cole calls Judy in part 17 of The Return is the same as The Experiment that we see in parts 1 and 8.

Now, let’s get right into those monsters!

The Monsters in General

Beowulf fights Grendel as depicted by Santiago Garcia and David Rubin's graphic novel adaptation of Beowulf.

Beowulf battles Grendel in Santiago Garcia and David Rubin’s Beowulf. Image from http://bit.ly/2jVrgOn.

Beowulf features some sort of unidentified troll-like monster, its mother, and a dragon. Twin Peaks has two monsters, essentially: Killer BOB and Judy (Jao De). I’m not sure how evil spirits from other dimensions or outside of time trace their lineage, but I think it’s safe to say that Judy is Killer BOB’s mother. So there’s one parallel.

But there’s more to the BeowulfTwin Peaks monster connection than mere surface similarity.

Like Grendel and his mother, BOB and Judy are encouraged by human action. In the case of the Grendels, the construction of Heorot disturbs them and provokes Grendel to attack. Heorot, however, is no military barracks but a place meant for peaceful gatherings and where new friendships could be forged or old ones strengthened. For BOB and Judy, the human action that gets them into action is the nuclear testing at the Hanford site. A nuclear bomb is not really much like a drinking hall, though it is interesting to think about it in terms of its ultimate goal: to ensure, through either use or mere presence, the continuation of peace. As part of this comparison,

I think it’s also neat to think of the hall, a place of peace, inciting the Grendels in a world rife with everyday conflict, whereas the bomb is a weapon of destruction in a world that enjoys everyday peace.

Grendel/Killer BOB

Beowulf, Grendel, Old English, Anglo-Saxon

An illustration of Grendel by J.R. Skelton from Stories of Beowulf. Grendel is described as “Very terrible to look upon.” From: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stories_of_beowulf_grendel.jpg

Moving on from that rabbit hole, though, we come to Grendel as an agent of terror. Likewise, BOB terrorizes those he inhabits and the lives of those around his hosts. Also, how Grendel and how Killer BOB are defeated is similar.

In Beowulf, the poem’s hero wrestles Grendel into submission with his bare hands. He even goes so far as to tear off the monster’s arm with just his hands since his grip has the strength of 30 men. In Twin Peaks something similar happens: Through a strange sequence of events Freddie ends up buying and putting on a green gardening glove that lets him punch with the power of a pile driver. This strength overcomes Killer BOB when he’s in his ball form, shattering him to pieces.

Freddie's Beowulf-like gardening gloved hand, Killer BOB Killer in Twin Peaks.

The arm.

Those pieces, like Grendel in the poem, then run away. And it seems likely that after the events of part 17 of The Return, BOB is as dead as Grendel is by the end of Beowulf.

The BOB Bubble that Freddie beats, Beowulf-like, in Twin Peaks.

The BOB bubble that Freddie bursts.

Grendel’s Mother/Judy

Grendel's mother menaces the pinned Beowulf with a knife.

By J. R. Skelton – Marshall, Henrietta Elizabeth (1908) Stories of Beowulf, T.C. & E.C. Jack, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11001837

Grendel’s mother also shares general traits with how Judy operates. When Grendel is killed Grendel’s mother shows a level of calculated intelligence when she only kills and carries off one of Hrothgar’s men. Not only does this action show that she has a concept of “an eye for an eye”, it suggests that she is aware of the nature of feuds.

Judy, a being of supreme evil, operates with similar careful calculation. She does not just let Cooper walk Laura to the white lodge when he plucks her from death in the original timeline/dimension of the series. Instead she plucks her away from him and brings her to another timeline/dimension entirely. But Judy doesn’t just hide Laura anyway. She brings the girl to a place where she holds sway (and runs a coffee shop apparently).

Judys Cafe in Twin Peaks The Return, no parallel in Beowulf.

Judy’s has it all — breakfast, homestyle cooking, and a slick white horse ride.

Cooper ventures into the place that Judy has made, where she seems to have some sort of dominion in an effort to get Laura back. Similarly, Beowulf dives into a lake to get to the Grendel’s underwater hall where Grendel’s mother holds power.

Heroes’ journeys to strange places to face powerful foes isn’t anything all that new or rare in stories. But I find it fascinating that both heroes venture into what is essentially enemy territory in similar ways. Beowulf dives until the currents pull him into a strangely lit cavern. Cooper travels down a road until he passes under electrical lines and ends up in this strange, yet familiar, new place.

Further, Beowulf goes into his trial with the sword of the enemy-turned friend Unferth. Cooper goes into it with a friend whom we’ve seen as being untrustworthy and manipulated throughout the season in Diane. In both cases, these helps prove useless in the confrontation with the power that they are fighting. Unferth’s sword does no damage to Grendel’s mother, and Diane forgets who she was as she settles into her new role as Linda in this new timeline/dimension.

Twin Peaks' Cooper reads a note - a missing page of Beowulf.

Cooper reads Linda’s weird note.

The Dragon/The Experiment/Judy

A dragon and its hoard like the one in Beowulf.

A dragon and its hoard.

Now, there is no dragon in Twin Peaks. Something so blatant or obvious just isn’t David Lynch and Marc Frost’s style. But. I think that there are more similarities between Beowulf‘s story and Twin Peaks The Return‘s main conflict. Though they require some mental squinting to see.

Up until the end of The Return, what exactly the vaguely female creature credited as “Experiment” was was unclear. I think it’s fair that this creature fits the role of Grendel’s mother quite perfectly. But. I also think that this creature fills the role of the dragon as well. She doesn’t transform into some sort of giant scaly creature for Cooper to shoot at or anything like that, but what the Experiment comes to be by the end of The Return is on the same level as the dragon in Beowulf.

In the poem, the dragon is not just the final foe that Beowulf faces. It is an ancient thing, greedy and prideful, that starts to terrorize Beowulf’s lands when one of its treasures is stolen. Of course, this dragon doesn’t spend any of its treasures, it merely hoards them. It is the inspiration for the vain and greedy Smaug from the Hobbit. Likewise, Judy seems to hoard whatever those bubbles that she and The Fireman sent out around the mid point of The Return. Once she wins them over to her pile that is. As she does with Laura.

I think that Judy is much more than the vaguely female shape we see in parts 1 and 8. The Experiment, with its ability to blend people’s faces faster than a Blendtec mashes diamonds, is just an embodiment, just a shell. It could be argued that that isn’t even correct, and the Experiment as Judy is merely a perception of the kind of evil force that simply cannot be embodied.

In short, Judy is bad news.

In Beowulf the dragon is bad news.

It burns down Beowulf’s meeting hall, terrorizes his people, and threatens their very existence. Just like Judy.

But, just like the dragon, I think that Judy only flexes its true muscle, shows off its true power as an evil force, when its most prized possession is stolen away from it. When Coop saves Laura from ending up in plastic on the beach in Twin Peaks, it’s like someone just stole something from the dragon’s hoard. From that moment on in The Return, I think that Judy transcends (if that makes sense) into its true self and is able to create all new realities (timelines/dimensions) in which to hide Laura.

Meanwhile, having passed through the lodge twice now, Cooper is somehow older, perhaps more wizened. This comes across in the diner scene where he takes down the three cowboys. Yet, he warns the fry cook that the oil he just dropped the cowboys’ guns into may be hot enough to set them off. Like Beowulf when the dragon attacks, this is an older, more tired hero that we’re looking at. Yet he is certain of himself and confident enough to find Carrie Paige (Laura), bring her back to Twin Peaks, and try to remind her of who she really is. Just as Beowulf is confident enough in his own abilities to fight the dragon.

Both stories then end.

Twin Peaks' experiment, much like Grendel's mother in Beowulf.

The eerie Experiment from the glass box.

Conclusion

With Beowulf, the dragon is defeated but Beowulf is mortally wounded. And the future of the Geatish people, and the whole way of life that the poem portrays, is unclear.

With Twin Peaks, Carrie Paige remembers who she is, and Cooper seems to wake up — which should be a victory. But instead we hear the same scream that filled the woods when Laura was swept away from Cooper earlier in the episode. We then hear a faint ethereal “Laura” and the electricity flickers. The house where Laura lives goes dark. Then the entire screen goes dark.

Thematically, these endings have much in common. Both are bittersweet, yes. But more than that both endings demonstrate the ending of something incredible. Whether the Geats survive without their king, or whether Cooper and Laura triumphed over that wave of evil they were up against are unclear. Both are unwritten. But both are certainly art.

Twin Peaks' Palmer house has its lights go out, like Beowulf's punching Grendel's lights out.

The dimmed Palmer (?) house.

And that’s my attempt to bring these two disparate bits of media together. An early medieval epic poem and a surreal detective/supernatural television show. To me it all makes some kind of sense.

But what do you think about this comparison? Is it even possible to compare two things that are so different in time and place and content? What are your own pet theories about the ending of Twin Peaks?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

Is Beowulf’s outward loyalty true loyalty?

Introduction
Synopsis
The Original Old English
My Translation
A Quick Interpretation
Closing

A vassal pledging loyalty to a lord via homage.

A miniature from a French manuscript depicting the homage ritual. How loyalty was pledged to a superior. Click for source.


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Synopsis

Beowulf gives Hygelac three gifts and a message from Hrothgar.


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The Original Old English

Ða ic ðe, beorncyning, bringan wylle,
estum geywan. Gen is eall æt ðe
lissa gelong; ic lyt hafo
heafodmaga nefne, Hygelac, ðec.”
Het ða in beran eaforheafodsegn,
heaðosteapne helm, hare byrnan,
guðsweord geatolic, gyd æfter wræc:
“Me ðis hildesceorp Hroðgar sealde,
snotra fengel, sume worde het
þæt ic his ærest ðe est gesægde;
cwæð þæt hyt hæfde Hiorogar cyning,
leod Scyldunga lange hwile;
no ðy ær suna sinum syllan wolde,
hwatum Heorowearde, þeah he him hold wære,
breostgewædu. Bruc ealles well!”
(Beowulf ll.2148-2162)


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My Translation

“‘These to you, oh noble king, I will bring
and point out the delicate points of each. After all,
all my grace still relies on you. I have few
kin — indeed there are none but you!’
He commanded then that the boar helm, head-topper for battle,
a war-steeped hat, the ancient mail shirt, and the precious war sword
be brought forth, saying thus after all this garb was brought out:
‘Hrothgar gave me this battle-keened gear,
oh wise lord. And along with them he commanded me
to first tell thee of these treasure’s journey.
He said that they had been Heorogar’s, the king,
lord of the Scyldings, for a long while.
Yet Heorogar did not bequeath them to his son,
the one called Heremod, though he was loyal,
a true wanderer through his father’s heart. Enjoy each of them well!'”
(Beowulf ll.2148-2162)


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A Quick Interpretation

When we think of the medieval world we tend to think in absolutes. Heroes are not just people who do some grand deed once and have that mark their reputation forever. Medieval heroes are people who always do the right thing (King Arthur). Villains are the exact opposite (Bad King John). Modern scholarship has made a lot of hay from complicating these figures, but in the popular imagination the medieval world is one where people’s morality is almost naively black and white.

But in this passage we have a clear example of a character adapting to his context.

Beowulf is maybe one of the most clear-cut characters in the popular imagination. Or at least as he’s experienced in high school and introductory university courses. And yet, this part of his speech to Hygelac includes him reassuring this king of his loyalty.

But mention of that loyalty is almost entirely absent while Beowulf is in Daneland. The only mention we get of Hygelac at all during that part of the poem is in Beowulf’s funeral instructions. If he should die trying to rid Daneland of the Grendels, his armour must be sent back to Hygelac.

So his pledge of loyalty (“all my grace still relies on you” (“Gen is eall æt ðe/lissa gelong” (ll.2149-50))) to his king could just be here out of convenience.

That said, though, I don’t think that Beowulf is disloyal to Hygelac. I think it’s just that this aspect of his character is just now being highlighted because of his context. After all, it would make for a very different character if Beowulf couldn’t shut up about how great Hygelac is from the time he introduces himself to the Danish coastguard.

Now, standing before him and ready to offer gifts, It makes sense that Beowulf reaffirms his loyalty to Hygelac. But, as with a real person, his loyalty is not always at the surface of Beowulf’s personality.

Which isn’t to say that Beowulf is just putting it on for Hygelac. I think that the few mentions of Hygelac that are made while Beowulf is in Daneland show that this loyalty is an aspect of Beowulf’s character. But at that time Beowulf had some more immediate things to be worried about (one named Grendel, the another known as Grendel’s mother). But, now that he’s back in Geatland this loyalty has a place to be expressed and so is on full display.

But what do you think about Beowulf’s obvious statements of loyalty in this passage (and earlier)? Is Beowulf as loyal to Hygelac as a modern person is loyal to their boss? Or is he as loyal as all the true warriors in old stories are to their liege lords?

As always, you can share your thoughts in the comments.


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Closing

Next week, Beowulf gives more gifts!

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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Beowulf gets brief when talking of the Grendels’ hall

Introduction

Synopsis

The Original Old English

My Translation

A Quick Interpretation

Closing

Beowulf and his band of Geats carrying Grendel's head.

J. R. Skelton – Marshall, Henrietta Elizabeth (1908) Stories of Beowulf, T.C. & E.C. Jack.
Image found at: http://bit.ly/2frmbiU

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Synopsis

Beowulf ends his story with his account of fighting Grendel’s mother and then explains his reward.

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The Original Old English

“‘þæt wæs Hroðgare hreowa tornost
þara þe leodfruman lange begeate.
þa se ðeoden mec ðine life
healsode hreohmod, þæt ic on holma geþring
eorlscipe efnde, ealdre geneðde,
mærðo fremede; he me mede gehet.
Ic ða ðæs wælmes, þe is wide cuð,
grimne gryrelicne grundhyrde fond;
þær unc hwile wæs hand gemæne,
holm heolfre weoll, ond ic heafde becearf
in ðam guðsele Grendeles modor
eacnum ecgum, unsofte þonan
feorh oðferede. Næs ic fæge þa gyt,
ac me eorla hleo eft gesealde
maðma menigeo, maga Healfdenes.
Swa se ðeodkyning þeawum lyfde.
Nealles ic ðam leanum forloren hæfde,
mægnes mede, ac he me maðmas geaf,
sunu Healfdenes, on minne sylfes dom.'”
(Beowulf ll.2129-2147)

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My Translation

“‘That was Hrothgar’s most grievous of those sorrows
that had long befallen that leader of a people.
Then that prince implored me while troubled in mind
to perform another heroic deed in the tumult
of the darkened waters, to venture my life;
in short, perform a glorious deed. He promised me proper reward.
I found in those surging waters, as it is well-known,
the grim and terrible guardian of the deep.
There we two were locked in hand-to-hand combat.
But soon the water seethed with blood, and I had cut off
the head of Grendel’s mother in her battle hall
with a mighty sword edge. With difficulty
I carried my life from that place, but it was not yet fated
for me to die, and so the protector of warriors gave me
a multitude of treasures, the son of Half-Danes.
Just so, that king of his people acted in accord with custom,
never had I any want for reward while with him,
he gave me great gains, granted me beautiful treasures,
the true Son of Half-Dane, and ever were they of my choosing.'”
(Beowulf ll.2129-2147)

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A Quick Interpretation

Beowulf keeps his story very tidy. There’s no crossover between his encounter with Grendel and his encounter with Grendel’s mother. There isn’t any mention of the Grendels’ underwater hall, or their armory full of ancient weapons either. Beowulf doesn’t even note how he saw Grendel’s body on some sort of alter and then chopped off his head.

Of course, his account of these fights is quite a bit more precise than the poet’s version. Though leaving these things out seems like a weird omission. Why not share how he took Grendel’s head and an ancient sword hilt as a prize? Or, for that matter, why not mention nailing Grendel’s arm to the eaves of Heorot?

I think that Beowulf leaves these things out because of Hygelac. The Geats’ king is, after all, supposed to be a giant. So using monstrous body parts as trophies is probably not something Hygelac wants to hear about.

Also, I have no way to confirm it, but it would be fascinating if this is the same reason why Beowulf doesn’t go into detail about the giant’s sword he found.

Which makes me wonder: What would the Anglo-Saxon people have thought of living giants if there are all of these ancient weapons allegedly made by their ancestors? Why aren’t these real life giants celebrated as smiths or designers and hoisted up as the best of artisans?

My only guess is that the idea of the giants (“eoten” in Old English) is somehow influenced by the Biblical account of the Nephilim. According to Genesis 6:2 and 6:4, these creatures were the offspring of human women and angels from the time before the great flood. Which placement only deepens the potential influence on Beowulf‘s creator since the found sword’s hilt tells of the flood.

But, then again, giants are a fairly common creature in European folklore and story. Even in the various versions of the mythical story of Britain’s origins, the Brut, giants make a few appearances.

Why do you think Beowulf cuts out mentions of Grendel’s arm and head being treated like trophies?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Closing

Next week, Beowulf gives Hygelac his treasures.

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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The trouble with Beowulf humanizing Grendel’s mother

Introduction
Synopsis
The Original Old English
My Translation
A Quick Interpretation
Closing

Grendel's mother menaces the pinned Beowulf with a knife.

By J. R. Skelton – Marshall, Henrietta Elizabeth (1908) Stories of Beowulf, T.C. & E.C. Jack, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11001837


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Synopsis

Beowulf tells of Grendel’s mother’s late night visit.


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The Original Old English

“‘Swa we þær inne ondlangne dæg
niode naman, oððæt niht becwom
oðer to yldum. þa wæs eft hraðe
gearo gyrnwræce Grendeles modor,
siðode sorhfull; sunu deað fornam,
wighete Wedra. Wif unhyre
hyre bearn gewræc, beorn acwealde
ellenlice; þær wæs æschere,
frodan fyrnwitan, feorh uðgenge.
Noðer hy hine ne moston, syððan mergen cwom,
deaðwerigne, Denia leode,
bronde forbærnan, ne on bæl hladan
leofne mannan; hio þæt lic ætbær
feondes fæðmum under firgenstream.'”
(Beowulf ll.2115-2128)


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My Translation

“‘So we took pleasure in that place
all the day long until another night came upon men.
Late within that dark Grendel’s mother appeared,
ready for revenge for the injury she suffered;
she made a journey full of grief. Death had carried off her son,
death egged on by grim faced Geats. That monstrous woman
avenged her son, schemed to boldly steal a hall dweller for her loss.
There on the floor was Aeschere for the taking,
the wise old counsellor departed from this life at her touch.
But, when the morning came, none could
burn up the dead of the Danish people by fire,
nor could that dear man be lain upon a pyre —
she bore the body in her fiend’s embrace to her home beneath her mountain stream.'”

(Beowulf ll.2115-2128)


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A Quick Interpretation

Whoever the Beowulf poet or poets were one thing is clear. They cared a whole lot more about Grendel’s mother than Beowulf does.

The poet took pains to build her up as this malevolent force that was smaller and perhaps more timid than Grendel but far more fierce and intelligent. Here, though, she just appears.

This retelling makes it very tempting to think that Beowulf simply doesn’t need to explain Grendel’s mother to Hygelac. Beowulf definitely doesn’t need to explain her to the poem’s audience. After all, there’s no need for Beowulf to try to swirl some mystery around her, since that mystery is already solved.

But why would he not need to explain what she is to Hygelac? As we’ll find out next week, it’s because Beowulf’s exploits have already been heard of.

But I think there could be more to it.

As someone who was apparently monstrous himself, Hygelac could no doubt understand a mother’s sympathy for her monstrous child and her seeking revenge for him. I think that’s why Beowulf goes directly to the more human elements of her character.

But Beowulf almost skips over the monstrous elements of Grendel’s mother entirely.

I mean, his description of Grendel’s mother makes her out to just be a mother seeking revenge. Aside from living “beneath her mountain stream” (“under firgenstream” (l.2128)), there’s nothing here that suggests that she’s a monster. Instead, she sounds like she’s just a mother driven to murder by the death of her child. Which is troubling because Beowulf does kind of kill her in the end. Even if, as we’ll see, he shortens that part of his story to just a few lines and skips over a lot of the grisly details of their fight.

But, what do you think is going on with Beowulf’s description of Grendel’s mother? Is she too humanized? Is Beowulf making this easier for Hygelac? Or for himself?

Share your thoughts in the comments!


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Closing

Next week, Beowulf shares a very condensed version of his fight with Grendel’s mother.

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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