Beowulf’s Tower: Analysis
This project is an artistic response to the 8th century epic poem, Beowulf just like John Gardner’s novel Grendel. In the epic Beowulf, one of the most common themes is good versus evil, and the tower of Beowulf shows this relationship. It shows how in the end, even though Beowulf dies, good does prevail. This tower is also a sign of how the meaning of Herot and heroism and leadership which represent good do triumph in the finish.
My interpretation of Beowulf’s tower starts with a very basic red base. Which in fact represents a lot. The red represents both evil and blood, two very prominent elements in this epic. Most of the poem deals with battle and the shedding of blood. This base represents the three battles that Beowulf goes through: fighting Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. At the end of all these, Beowulf dies while successfully defeating the dragon, with the help of Higlaf. The red symbolizes the glory and fame in Beowulf’s death against the dragon. Epithets such as “famous lord” show the importance of fame in that culture (1:55). Even at the very beginning of this epic, important Anglo-Saxon values are shown: “With golden rings/ So young men build the future, wisely open-handed in peace, protected in war; so warriors earn their fame, and wealth is shaped with a sword” (Prologue: 21-5). This description shows the significance of ring- giving, or friendship, knighthood, fame, and wealth.
The top of Beowulf’s tower is a cone because it is meant to represent reaching towards the sky and towards God. There is an example of this in Beowulf when the Danes and their leader Hrothgar want to build the great hall of Herot “that would hold his mighty band and reach higher toward Heaven than anything/ That had even been known to the sons of men” (1: 68- 70). The hall in Herot is supposed to reach all the way up to heaven towards the Lord and was to embody the spirit of Herot. Beowulf’s tower creates this effect. Three quotes represent Beowulf’s battles and journey through the epic. Preparing for his battle with Grendel, Beowulf said, “I alone with the help of my men, may purge all evil from this hall” (6: 431-2). The irony of this statement is that Beowulf defeats Grendel all by himself. Then, after defeating Grendel, moving on to his next challenge of Grendel’s mother, Beowulf reassures his people: “And have a look at this lady monster, I promise you this: she’ll find no shelter” (21: 1391-2). Beowulf personifies this spirit throughout the epic. He constantly protects the people in Herot and his people in Geatland. Beowulf is a great warrior in this epic in other ways, even if he did not complete his challenge, like when fighting the dragon. For example, when he is older and wiser and is about to fight the dragon, Beowulf accepts his fate. Beowulf realized he would die: “I mean to stand, not run from his shooting flames, stand till fate decides which of us wins/ My hear is firm, My hands calm” (35. 2525-8). Mortality and the acceptance of it is a common theme in Beowulf. An example of this acceptance is when Beowulf stated, “Wanting to stay we go, all beings here on God’s earth, wherever it is written that we go, taking our bodies from death’s old bed to the unbroken sleep that follows life’s feast” (15: 1004-8). Mortality offers a chance for the characters in the book to prove themselves and be remembered. With these three quotes, the portrayals of glory, fame, remembrance, and death are shown.
The three drawings of the battles against Grendel, his mother, and the dragon show the challenges the Beowulf goes through in the epic. The first drawing is of Grendel and Beowulf’s battle. Through the epic Grendel is depicted to be very evil, “hoping to slaughter” and hairy and monster-like. At one point, it is said that Grendel “made his home in hell/ Not hell but earth?” (2: 103-4) saying how Grendel is the evil making the earth bad. He is not in hell but he is bringing it to the rest of the world. The tower represents the triumph of Beowulf who is good over Grendel, who is evil. The next drawing is of Beowulf’s battle versus Grendel’s mother. This picture captures the “greedy she-wolf” within Grendel’s mother (22: 1497). In the movie of Beowulf and other people’s depictions, Grendel’s mother is portrayed as a mermaid or sea creature especially because of the underwater. But I wanted to show a resemblance between Grendel and his mother, to show the family connection between the two. The last drawing of Beowulf and his battle against the dragon shows the death of Beowulf and the dragon still alive and thriving, although he eventually dies because of the help of Wiglaf. Wiglaf is left out of this drawing to make the tower all about Beowulf and show his ability to complete challenges on his own, with his men in the background. Wiglaf was the only loyal follower of Beowulf as shown in fitt 36: “And we must go to him, while angry flames burn at his flesh, help our glorious king! By almighty God, I’d rather burn myself than see/ Flames swirling around my lord” (36: 2648-52). The claw of Grendel at the top of the tower is Beowulf’s symbol of being a warrior. The claw refers to Herot and Beowulf’s time there, even though he died in Geatland. This claw represented victory after 12 winters of misery: “The victory, for the proof, hanging high from the rafters where Beowulf had hung it, was the monster’s arm, claw and shoulder and all” (12: 833-6). All of these pieces of the tower help to show Beowulf’s heroism in this epic.
When Beowulf asks for his tower he tells Wiglaf what he wants in vague terms. For this project I took the basic design of Beowulf’s seaside lighthouse and interpreted it in my own way. I tried to embody fame, glory, death, remembrance, and fighting for one’s people. The purpose of Beowulf’s tower was for remembrance, which Beowulf received at the end of the epic and his life, “And so Beowulf’s followers rode, mourning their beloved leader, crying that no better king had ever lived, no prince so mild, no man so open to his people, so deserving of praise” (43: 3178-82).
Beowulf. Trans. Burton Raffel. New York: Penguin Group, 1963.