Hero Vs Monster in The Poem Beowulf

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Words: 1302 |

Pages: 3|

7 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

Words: 1302|Pages: 3|7 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

In most people's minds a monster is always qualified as hostile and ugly, while heroes are qualified as good and beautiful. Through mythology, ancient scripts, literature, movies and real life we see, hear and read about monsters and heroes all the time. Examples of “famous” villains are: Darth Vader from The Star Wars Trilogy, Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs, The Joker from Batman or Grendel from Beowulf. But real humans such as serial killers and pedophiles can also be qualified as monsters since it is clear that a monster has cruel intentions and knowledge of the harm they are causing. The monster is evidently the “bad guy”, whereas a hero is the opposite. There are many examples of famous fictional heroes: Odysseus, SuperMan, Robin Hood, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes. However, firefighters and military forces for example are often also qualified as being heroes. The hero is evidently the “good guy” because he saves the people from the bad, by killing the monsters.

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In the ancient Anglo-Saxon poem “Beowulf” we have studied the classic story where the hero “Beowulf”, unique, selfless, strong and courageous, fights the monster “Grendel” who is a demon who has been terrorizing the village, Heorot, and killed many for more than a decade. In this particular text there seems to be a clear distinction between the “good person” and the “bad person”: a hero versus a monster, where the good must conquer the bad. Through the study of Beowulf we shall try to determine what makes a hero and what makes a monster. But what if there were no monsters out there, would there still be heroes ? Moreover, can monsters become heroes and vice versa ?

A monster is someone, as seen is this poem, with cruel intentions. Monsters know exactly what they are doing; their purpose is to cause harm to others, to be evil and spread hate and darkness around them. In the poem Beowulf Grendel is presented as a “powerful demon”, an “outcast”, lines. He is described as someone coming from hell “a fiend out of hell”, a “God-cursed brute”, “merciless”, “malignant by nature” and “the Lord’s outcast'. The description of the darkness of the monster Grendel is very long and continues on many lines throughout the poem until his death (“his days were numbered”). For more than a decade (“for twelve winters”), Grendel attacks, kills and devours warriors and citizens in the Danish kingdom Hrothgar. He operates during the night “..after nightfall, Grendel set out for the lofty house,... suddenly then the God-cursed brute was creating havoc…”.

The explanations for why he is being so cruel are not clear nor is his background. However, if one takes a closer look at Grendel, one understands that he is a loner “so Grendel waged his lonely war…” and that he has been rejected by society (“he had dwelt for a time in misery among the banished monsters, Cain’s clan”), even by god “he was the Lord’s outcast”. In similar stories of villains, for example The Joker, there are similar patterns. Thus, one could believe that a person becomes a monster because of rejection.

Moreover, a character can also be pushed to become a monster because of grief. In the poem, Grendel’s mother griefs her son (”but now his mother Had sallied forth on a savage journey, Grief-racked and ravenous, desperate for revenge”) when he is fatally wounded by Beowulf and seeks revenge “desperate for revenge” for “her only child”. She goes to Heorot kills one of Beowulf’s warriors (“she had done away with a great warrior, ambushed him at rest” and “had snached their trophy” (her son Grendel’s hand) and later that night almost also kills Beowulf. However, it seems that divine forces “Had the strong links and locks of his war-gear not helped to save him: Holy God decided the victory. It was easy for the Lord, the Ruler of the heaven, to redress the balance once Beowulf got back up on his feet” gives him strengths and power to kill Grendel’s mother.

As stated before, a hero is the complete opposite of a monster. A hero is a genuine person who is completely selfless - he puts others before himself. A hero is strong and beautiful, loyal and determined. Heroes are willing to risk their own lives just to save others. In this poem, the main hero - Beowulf- saves the kingdom of Heorot in Denmark by killing (fatally wounding) Grendel, the monster that continuously terrorized the kingdom. Beowulf is described as being full of courage “the man whose name was known for courage”, “formidable”, “the strongest swimmer of all” , and he is called a “hero” even before he combats Grendel. Beowulf could have died at any point during the battle but he knew what he had to do to save his people. He is a unique person “proud and sure”, determined to do his best to get rid of the monster “I meant to perform to the uttermost, …. And I shall fulfill that purpose. Prouve myself with a proud deed” even to pay with his life “or meet death in the mead-hall”. Moreover, Beowulf is later after he is fatally wounded when fighting the dragon, described by his men and people as a hero “He worked for the people, but as well as that he behaved like a hero”, and he gets a heroic funeral “the Geat people built a pyre for Beowulf, stacked and decked it until it stood four-square hung with helmets, heavy war shields… and then his warriors laid him in the middle of it, mourning a lord far-famed and beloved” and he will be kept in their hearts and remembered forever “they said that of all the Kings upon the earth he was the man most gracious and fair-minded kindest to his people and keenest to win fame”.

There are obvious differences between a hero and a monster, but when both of them often kill one (the monster) is left to die alone in the dark without funeral and the other (the hero) gets a heroic funeral and is cherished for a long time.

Surprisingly, people can sometimes develop feelings for a monster. For example, in the Walt Disney movie Monster&Co the main characters are monsters and “mean”, their purpose is to “scare” kids. But in the end they turn out to be “good” and lovable Monsters, these characters changed because of “Boo”, a little girl filled with laughter and love that she gives to the main Monster “James Sullivan”. All the Monsters changes and instead of scaring kids they start to make them laugh. Another example where a monster becomes nice and actually turns into a prince is the story of “the Beauty and the Beast”. Similar scenarios can happen in real life too, where hostile and mean humans can become lovable and nice thanks to care and love from others. Unfortunately, in Beowulf, the monster Grendel has only know darkness and evil, he is “fatherless” and he was cursed by god. He has never experienced the good and as a result he never feels remorse. But if Grendel had been introduced to the good and to love, he would maybe never had killed all those people and become a monster.

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If with love and care it was possible to convert monsters to nice/good characters, there would be no more need for heroes? But supposingly it is important to stress that there must always be “opposites” in order to create balance. And in order to show “the good” it is necessary to show “the bad”, thus all these texts, books and movies about the subject. The moral of Beowulf and many of the other texts and stories treating the same subject Hero vs Monster, being that “good conquers evil” and it highlights the importance of values, loyalty and honor in individuals. 

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Hero Vs Monster In The Poem Beowulf. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 27, 2024, from
“Hero Vs Monster In The Poem Beowulf.” GradesFixer, 10 Feb. 2022,
Hero Vs Monster In The Poem Beowulf. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 May 2024].
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