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V5 Featured

The Lonely King

By Victor Zou

Beowulf is a classic and ancient Anglo-Saxon hero’s tale. The various monstrosities he faces define his story and character. His defeat of Grendel, his atrocious mother, and the dragon all reflect his prowess and courage as a heroic champion. But these victories also encourage the growth of ill-fated attitudes. As J. Leyerle describes, he is a hero that “follows a code that exalts indomitable will and valor in the individual.”[1] In fact, the more Beowulf grows as a heroic warrior the more independent and prideful he becomes. And yet, in the midst of this he is pushed towards taking on the role of a king, which is a role he is woefully unfit to take. To lead a people-group requires a willingness to cooperate and a humility that a Beowulfian hero is simply disinclined to have. This disconnect between both ideals is the crux of Beowulf’s journey. While Beowulf assumes both positions, there is a clear distinction between the characteristics of a successful hero and a successful king. Thus, the tale acts as a critique of a heroic culture that values pride and independence by showing the dangerous tendencies that this encourages, and what can happen when a hero is given power and responsibility.