Beowulf is steeped in a pagan tradition that depicts nature as hostile and forces of death as uncontrollable. Blind fate picks random victims; man is never reconciled with the world. Beowulf ends a failure. There is some truth in this conclusion, but for the most part, someone who didn’t have a well-lived life has most likely portrayed it. Beowulf is steeped in a pagan tradition, but not one that depicts nature as hostile. The setting in the beginning is portrayed as, “…these beautiful plains marked off by oceans, then proudly setting the sun and moon to glow across the land and light it…”8. This doesn’t sound like anything hostile to me; on the contrary, what is being described creates an image of delectation.
“The corners of the earth were made lovely with trees…”11 is said. When reading these words, the last thing on my mind would be hostile. Forces of death and blind fate picking random victims may have some truth to them, but fate is something that’s very disputed. “…Snatched up thirty men, smashed them unknowing in their beds…”37
This may seem like fate had decided who was going to die, but it probably wasn’t so. Grendel, “…slipped through the door…”36 and snatched himself whomever he could get his hands onto. He most likely came in and killed the first thirty that were sleeping closest to him. He undoubtedly didn’t creep over all those men in risk of waking them up and start slaughtering on that side.
What if, while he was massacring the group, they would have woken up? The he would have been trapped in the mead hall and would have surely found his death.
I imagine Grendel being smarter that that. It wasn’t fate that decided who would die that night, but simply those who had slept near the door. Making smart decisions and thinking things over can control your fate, if such a thing exists. Beowulf did not end in failure. How could a man who was known as a hero and King be considered a failure? He can’t.
He, after defeating Grendel’s mother, became King of the Geats and was admired by his people. He was showered in gifts as was said. “…Laden with gifts given him by Hrothgar…”pg. 34, prologue He lived in peace for fifty years before having to face the dragon; fifty years of peace and prosperity to rejoice over. Many men did not make it to fifty in those days and he was past that and still well off. When he did face the dragon, he knew he wasn’t going to come out alive. “…With glory denied him. He knew it, but he raised his sword…”228 He was an old man and had done everything he had wanted to do. His life had been a complete one and death would be a welcome overpass. How can one who has long completed his journey in success be a failure? Beowulf defeated Grendel. Beowulf defeated Grendel’s mother. Beowulf became King of the Geats. Beowulf lived for fifty years in peace. Beowulf defeated the dragon.
Beowulf died a man of honor, loved and respected by his people. He was a noble leader and lived the life of a King. His body was defeated on earth, but his soul and spirit lived on for many years to follow. Beowulf was not a failure.