The Two Protagonists Can Help to Trace Changes
Beowulf is one of the most influential works in the English literature. The book has inspired numerous authors. Tolkien was also inspired by the great epic. His famous book The Lord of the Rings can be regarded as a kind of the contemporary vision of the great Anglo-Saxon saga.
These two literary works can also demonstrate the way people, as well as people’s values, have changed throughout centuries. Thus, the protagonists of the two works start a quest to defeat the evil. They are both noble. They both have brave hearts. They both succeed. However, the two heroes differ greatly. Thus, the similarities and differences between the two protagonists can shed light on the change in human society.
One of the most conspicuous differences between the two protagonists of the two works is their appearance. Thus, Beowulf is a great leader, a future king, and a great warrior. Whoever sees him, such words are uttered: “In weeds of the warrior worthy they, / methinks, of our liking; their leader most surely, / a hero that hither his henchmen has led” (Beowulf 15). The young warrior is strong and brave, like any Scandinavian warrior. He is a skillful warrior who strives to defeat any evil.
As for the other hero, the protagonist of the epic of the twentieth century, things are a bit different. Frodo, the one who is destined to defeat the evil, is a hobbit. Frodo has nothing to do with a great warrior as hobbits are rather small creatures who try to live in peace with their neighbors (Tolkien Chapter 1). Frodo is not a strong warrior.
He has to face his destiny. He is not a trained warrior like Beowulf who lives a life of a wandering warrior and fights the evil in different parts of the world. Frodo is not ashamed of expressing his doubts: “I’m at a loss, I’m frightened, and I’m bearing a terrible burden…” (Tolkien Chapter 3). However, Beowulf is depicted as a fearless man.
Apart from differences in appearance, the two heroes’ motivations are also different. Thus, Beowulf decides to help the king to defeat the evil. Beowulf is eager to start a fight.
More I hear, that the monster dire,
in his wanton mood, of weapons recks not;
Hence shall I scorn…
brand or buckler to bear in the fight…
must I front the fiend and fight for life,
foe against foe. (Beowulf 17)
He decides to fight Grendel. Beowulf makes a long trip to start a fight with the evil creature.
When it comes to Frodo, he also starts a long trip. However, this is not much of his choice. Frodo knows nothing about his destiny until he is given a ring. The Hobbit “would gladly get rid of it” (Tolkien Chapter 2). Frodo is afraid of his destiny, and he is not sure he can handle it. He is not a warrior as he hardly ever fights.
He has friends who are warriors and who are eager to help Frodo in his quest. For instance, Strider notes: “if I can save you from your own stupid mistakes, then I will” (Tolkien Chapter 10). Therefore, the two heroes are motivated differently. Beowulf is the one to make decisions, whereas Frodo has no choice as it is his destiny to start the quest.
No matter how different the two protagonists are, they have much in common. The two heroes have brave hearts. They are also ready to sacrifice their lives to defeat evil. Interestingly, Beowulf’s commitment and courage are taken for granted. The reader expects that the great warrior will fight the evil:
This hero now,
by the Wielder’s might, a work has done
that not all of us erst could ever do
by wile and wisdom. (Beowulf 31)
It is expected that Beowulf should defeat evil as he is strong, brave, and good.
However, the reader cannot but admire Frodo’s courage. The little hobbit withstands the vicious Dark Lord who destroyed numerous noble warriors and wizards. The little hobbit who has lived in peace and enjoyed a peaceful life has to become a brave warrior to save the entire world. This is what people admire. People admire when seemingly weak people are strong and brave.
The Two Heroes Reveal the Change
Thus, it is possible to trace the difference in people’s values in different centuries. Several centuries ago, people used to think of warriors who were strong and courageous. Those warriors were to defeat evil and defend others. However, people of the twentieth century were not concerned with great warriors-defenders. Tolkien’s work reveals the change in values. Those who lived in the twentieth century thought that anyone could become a hero. People started believing that even seemingly weak people could make a difference.
This change can be explained by the experience people had to acquire in the twentieth century. The two World Wars, which were the most devastating wars in the history of humanity, made people understand that anyone could become a hero. Tolkien revealed this change in his epic. Thus, it is possible to state that the two works are reflections of the epochs. More so, even though The Lord of the Rings was inspired by the great epic Beowulf, the former can be regarded as a kind of rethinking of some values.
Beowulf. Trans. Francis B. Gummere. New York: P.F. Collier & Sons, 1910. Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library.
Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel. The Lord of the Rings. 2000. Web. 4 Apr. 2012. <http://flyingmoose.org/tolksarc/book/>.