Guest Writer Eddie Knudsen
You know, there isn’t enough controversy in the world, let’s address that: Beowulf is a poorly written character by today’s standards.
Alright, now that all the English teachers in the school have stormed off in anger, let me explain. Most teachers emphasize that characters in stories should be believable and human, with flaws and a personality. They then turn around and say that Beowulf, a story about a guy who has the depth of a sheet of paper, is a masterpiece.
Although you’ve likely already read it for an English class, Beowulf is a story originating in Scandinavia, from a period before written records existed. It chronicles the adventures of the titular Beowulf as he goes around killing monsters in various ways. All you really need to know is that he choke slams a demon at one point.
The thing is, Beowulf has the personality of a plank of wood wearing chain mail. Whenever experiences any difficulty or personal hardships, being invincible and influential for no apparent reason. Even in a situation that could potentially become an actual challenge, new plot elements are introduced spontaneously in ways that let Beowulf get out of jail free. For example, the random sword he conveniently finds underwater that, from its description, is less of a sword and more of a giant slab of metal. And, unlike the main characters of similar stories, Beowulf is just boring as a character. He has no motivations or history beyond glory and battle, and goes through absolutely no character development throughout the book, despite the fact that it spans nearly his entire lifetime chronologically.
Now, you might say, “Oh, but Eddie,
Berserk Beowulf was written as a heroic epic, it’s supposed to be an inspiring folktale that makes people feel better about life.” And, you know what? You’re right. That’s not the issue, however. The problem is that we still call it a masterpiece in today’s world, without bringing up the context. It’s considered a pinnacle of writing, yet if someone were to write a story like it today, with an impossibly powerful main character with no exploration of their flaws or the consequences of their actions, they’d be laughed out of the room.
I’m not saying Beowulf shouldn’t be taught, far from it. It deserves recognition for its historical significance; after all, it’s the oldest piece of literature recorded in the English language and gives us a window into the attitudes towards life people in these times had. We shouldn’t, however, imply that it’s a deep, well-written story.