Study Guide

Beowulf: The Supernatural

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The Supernatural

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The supernatural is definitely present in Beowulf, but it's oddly complicated. First, we have the two demons, Grendel and his mother, and the other assorted monsters of the epic – the dragon that Beowulf must fight, the serpentine creatures in the lake, and the sea monsters that Beowulf fought in the past. These are the stock monsters out of an epic fantasy tale. But Beowulf is also deeply conflicted about religion. The poet who composed the poem has a strongly Christian worldview, but also knows that the people he's telling a story about, who are from his distant past, would probably have been pagans. As a result, Beowulf fuses the supernatural together with a religious depiction of evil in a strange and interesting way – the monsters are the Biblical Cain's children.

Questions About The Supernatural

  1. Why are all the major antagonists in Beowulf depicted as supernatural creatures, demons, and monsters? How is the epic different with supernatural antagonists than it would be if the antagonists were human?
  2. How does your interpretation of Beowulf change if you interpret Grendel and his mother as human outcasts or members of a rival tribe, rather than as demonic monsters?
  3. The supernatural elements in Beowulf include demons, a dragon, and sea monsters. Is there a conflict between these fantasy elements and the theme of religion in the epic? To put it another way, can divine intervention and dragons co-exist easily in the same story?
  4. Does Beowulf himself seem to have any supernatural powers? (Hint: consider his exploits in the water, both in the swimming contest and in the lake where Grendel's mother lives.)

Chew on This

Instead of a conflict between straightforward good and evil, Beowulf depicts a conflict between demonic fantasy creatures and the power of fate wielded by a Christian God.

Because Beowulf himself seems to be stronger and have more stamina than a normal mortal man, he needs fantastic monsters as his opponents.