Beowulf @ Ellis

Harshitha M.


An Eternal Battle


            This piece of artwork shows the relationship between good and evil in the great epic poem Beowulf. The setting is loosely based on the scene in the poem when Beowulf prepares to jump into the murky water to try to confront and kill Grendel’s mother. The piece shows a comparison between good and evil through various images taken from the internet. There is a wheel in the middle of the piece to represent the idea that the wheel of life and time is always turning. This idea is very significant in the poem Beowulf. The wheel in this piece furthers the symbolism in the poem. The imagery and design in the piece represents different expressions and symbols of good and evil in the epic poem. 
            Good and evil are very intricate concepts, and when portraying them in color, I thought I would need a wide range and blend of shades. This is difficult to do with markers or watercolors, so I decided to make the colors on Adobe Photoshop. The assorted images selected from the internet were compiled to create a stark contrast between good and evil. With Photoshop I was able to create such effects as the dark mist on the “evil side”.  The Anglo-Saxon warriors on the good side were created from three different images: the picture of the helmet, the picture of the main suit of armor, and the picture of a knight. I chose these tree because other Anglo Saxon warriors online were depicted in battle or were posing unsuitably. The compilation of images worked relatively well to depict good and evil. One of my main goals was to show the immeasurable dissimilarity between good and evil. The shadows and tones of colors help enormously in depicting the stark differences. The images are very symbolic of various expressions of good and evil. Also, the images are from different time periods, have different lighting, and different resolutions. This shows that the battle between good and evil is eternal and not confined to a specific time period. The brick tower is from a more modern time period, for the Anglo-Saxons did not use brick for construction. But whether one is in the Anglo-Saxon times or in the modern times, inspiration and meaning still remain the same.
            The setting of this piece loosely resembles the scene when Beowulf prepares to confront Grendel’s mother. On the dark side, the cave and the murky water are drawn from the description in the poem. On the good side, Beowulf is prepared for battle and has a sword similar to the description in the poem. However, the good side also represents the instance when Beowulf fights the dragon. Beowulf is the warrior holding the sword, and Wiglaf is the person standing next to Beowulf, and is almost as tall. The other five warriors represent Beowulf’s thanes who desert Beowulf when he is injured. They are shorter in height because they are not as great, noble, courageous, and loyal as Beowulf and Wiglaf. Courage, loyalty, and nobility are key values to an Anglo-Saxon warrior. Wiglaf has these values, and he shows outstanding courage when he faces the dragon that Beowulf initially is not able to defeat. Therefore, Wiglaf is almost as tall and noble as Beowulf, but he is still young and has a lot to learn. Wiglaf also confirms that he is not ego-centric. He could have said that he defeated the dragon alone, but he takes no credit and praises Beowulf instead.
            Other images are added to both sides to represent other facets of good and evil. The evil side has a shadowy dark red sky, but the good side has a clear blue sky. This suggests two completely different scenes, but the colors actually show that the good side sees life more clearly than the evil side. The murky water also shows the vagueness of evil. There is blood in the corner; the water is not clear. Part of it is blue, part green, but it has an evil aura. This also shows how evil does not see clearly or think purely. Evil is irrational, murky, and has no clear purpose but selfishness. The two main creatures in the dark side, the sea monster and the dragon, look violent, threatening, and disoriented. They both look like they are about to attack. The audience would expect them to be trying to overtake and attack the “good side”, but they are both facing deeper into the dark side. This shows that they have no sense of where advantage lies or a sense of clear purpose and rational thought. They simply want to destroy and corrupt, but they do not consider who or what they are harming. Evil also has no sense of loyalty. Those creatures are about to attack another creature on the same side. This shows irrationality, disloyalty, or stupidity. Evil has no boundaries or morals. It can kill whomever it wishes.
            The good side, on the other hand, has purpose and order. The warriors’ purpose is to battle the evil side. There are organized, disciplined, and are standing in a line. There is beauty in the colorful leaves and butterflies, and there is a sense of unity. No creature is alone on the good side. There is grace and harmony.
There is only one of each creature on the dark side, which shows isolation and loneliness. Evil comes in many forms, and when one thinks they have sequestered one form of evil, another form might surface. The dragon looks like it is leaving the picture, but even as it is leaving, the sea monster looks like it is just arriving. It is partially submerged in the water, and preparing to come out. The dark mist behind the sea monster represents the immense lack and vagueness in evil. Evil is deficient of loyalty, compassion, rationality, companionship, joy, and love. It knows only itself, which is empty at heart and is a big void of nothing. The good side has no such “dark” isolation and is not missing anything. It is full of color and life. Everything fits and belongs on the good side; there are no missing pieces.
            Evil is always threatening to emerge but it is “again and again defeated” (line 114). Even though evil is always defeated at the end, evil rejuvenates, and good and evil in battle are equally matched in the world. Both sides are powerful and close to the same size. But thankfully, only good leaves a permanent mark. The tower in the back is Beowulf’s tower. This is one of the towers of goodness that people remember. Beowulf asks for a tower to be constructed to inspire others. Good is on a higher level than evil. The good side is pictured on a hill, and it is elevated because it is closer to God. The evil side is sunk down in a lake, because it is degraded and far from both humans and God.
            There are crows in both the good side and the evil side. On the evil side, there is only one crow who is trapped in the hopelessness of evil. The dragon casts a shadow over any light that it could possibly find. On the good side, there are three crows and they are flying toward the sky. They are rising and reaching for a better future. They have hope for change. The good side is shown as a green hill with many rocks on it. Taking the path of goodness may not be simple and effortless, but it is certainly worth it. To follow that path one has to climb up, but to take the path of evil, all one has to do is fall. It is easier to take the path of evil. But if you do, you will end as the crow does: trapped and hopeless. If you take the path of goodness, you will have true happiness and hope.
            There is a wheel in the middle of the two sides which is highly symbolic. In the poem Beowulf, “the wheel is always turning”. In the poem, Hrothgar, a noble king, was at the top of the wheel for a long time. Everything was going well for him, and his people were content. Then, when Grendel started to raid Hrothgar’s mead hall, Herot, the wheel started turning for the worse. Then, Hrothgar was at the bottom of the wheel. When Beowulf arrived, the wheel started to turn upward again. In the poem, the wheel is mainly used to show the tides in life. In this piece of art, the symbolism of the wheel is extended. In the poem, one’s placement on the wheel is not simply determined by human will, but the extension of the poem’s symbolism shows that there is an element of will in one’s placement on the wheel. In Beowulf one can be at the top of the wheel, on the bottom, or in between. The wheel in the artwork shows that even though part of one’s place on the wheel is determined by an outside force, another part is determined by the person. S/he has free will and can choose to be good or evil.
            The left side symbolizes good and the right side symbolizes evil. A place at the top of the wheel is determined by forces out of human control, but a human being can choose whether s/he wants to be on the right or left. Hermod and Beowulf are two examples taken from the poem who effectively show that human beings have free will, and it is entirely up to a human being to make the best of what is given to him/her. At one time, Hermod and Beowulf were both at the top of the wheel. But Hermod represents a human being who chooses to fall into the evil side. He was a king who had a lot of power, but he became very lustful, brutal, proud, arrogant, and self-absorbed. Hermod only cared for himself and did not give thought to the needs of his people. On the other hand, Beowulf chose the good side. He was a just, loving, wise, compassionate, and good king. Till the very end of his life, Beowulf thought about the needs of his people. Beowulf was followed out of love and respect, but Hermod was followed out of fear. No matter where one is placed on the wheel by a greater, non-human force, one still must choose to be good or evil and make the best of their current situation.
            This piece extends themes, ideas, and images from the great epic poem Beowulf into another work of art to further portray the eternal battle between good and evil.


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