Tolkien and Beowulf

The Dragon in Beowulf… signifies the feond mancynnes (the enemy of mankind) and of God, so that the battle between Beowulf and the monsters on a higher level means that ‘the real battle is between the soul and its adversaries’ (p. 73). The figure of the monster externalises the evil within each soul. Hence it is the hero Beowulf and not the poem upon whom Tolkien focuses in the article’s title. More anagogically, such a battle with a feond also signifies the conflict between man and his ultimate enemy, Death. Tolkien imagines the Beowulf poet surveying past heroes so that he ‘sees that all glory (or as we might say “culture” or “civilization”) end in night’ (p. 73). 

In this world, as Germanic heroic values have it, ‘man, each man and all men, and all their works shall die’ (p.73). So the Beowulf poet represents for Tolkien the hero of the title, an idea conveyed by the article’s last line and final metaphor. Tolkien expresses his confidence in the permanence of Beowulf, given its similar language, geographical setting, and nationality of author – ‘it must ever call with a profound appeal’ – only, however, ‘until the dragon comes’ (p. 88). Even art will eventually perish before the final adversary of all creation, the antithesis of its Author – total annihilation. The Dragon thus concretely realises those allegorical personifications whom Milton portrayed as the offspring of Satan’s mind in Paradise Lost – Sin and Death. It recurs, in varying form, throughout Tolkien’s works.

Tolkien’s Art 'A Mythology for England' ~ Jane Chance Nitzsche (Page 5)

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