beowulf and the dragon

Anakin…exists relative to the state of the galaxy. He is not Luke, he is not the youth of western literature on a journey; that is Luke’s role. Anakin’s role is that of the demi-god of Greek and Roman origin. When Anakin rises, the galaxy rises with him, when Anakin is in turmoil, the galaxy is in turmoil, when Anakin falls, so falls the galaxy. Anakin is intrinsic to the galaxy because Anakin, like so many other mythological demi-gods, is an avatar for the gods or, in the case of Star Wars, the Force. Regardless of any one person’s views on the Force (which are extremely disparate and widely varied, so we won’t broach that subject here), this fact is indisputable. Anakin, as the Chosen One who will “bring balance to the Force”, is its avatar. When Anakin is claimed by the Dark, the Jedi Order’s zenith is reached, the Balance is tipped, and the Order descends into darkness with Anakin, just as his return also signals theirs. 

The title ‘Return of the Jedi’ doesn’t just reference Luke becoming a Jedi, but Anakin’s return to the Light, and with it, the ability for the Jedi Order to once more flourish. In this he is much like Beowulf, when the Geatish hero sacrifices himself to defeat the dragon at the end of the epic poem. Failure would spell ultimate destruction for Beowulf’s people and country, just as, had Anakin failed to destroy the Emperor, the Jedi and the galaxy would truly have been wiped out. Anakin himself has to die, however, because he is what tips the scales. Once he dies and becomes one with the Force, only then is balance restored.

— 

‘STAR WARS: The Creation of a Modern Myth: Cultural Influence, Fan Response and the Impact of Literary Archetypes on Saga Perception’ 

(via muldertorture)

This right here is absolutely fundamental to understanding the entire purpose of the Skywalker saga, as Lucas so painstakingly told it. The destruction of the old Jedi Order that had ‘lost its way’ and forgotten its true role in the galaxy, and the founding of the New, heralded by Anakin’s return to the Light, and Luke’s essential role in reminding him—and us all—of what it means to be a True Jedi.

This is something I mentioned on twitter: my favorite idea lately for stories to work with is “humanity’s struggle to come to terms with the unknowable.” That’s as fine a point as I can put on it, I guess. It seems like an important and politically resonant idea, and a lot of my thinking lately revolves around how to articulate a position at odds with extremist claims of absolute knowledge, while still existing in a world of provisional material truth.

Here’s a list of media that I’ve really loved and that approaches this idea from different angles. Nothing comprehensive, just a list I’ve been adding to.

  • Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, 1851. This is a book I have spent too much time with, and its focus on the failure of human intellect and ideology to make sense of nature/the transcendent/god is important to me.
  • Solaris by Stanisław Lem, 1961. One of my favorite scifi novels; more about philosophy of science than about scientific ideas. Moody and intense satire. The Tarkovsky adaptation is beautiful but doesn’t quite engage with the same ideas.
  • Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, 1971. Bewildering pseudo-first-contact story that really interestingly ties into USSR politics (this point is made really well in HyperNormalisation). Also adapted by Tarkovsky, interestingly; haven’t seen it tho
  • Alien, 1979. One of a hundred examples of a story that works elegantly with little exposition of its fantastical elements, to be undercut by the more explicit approach of its sequels. Really cool to read as a chaoskampf story; alien representing the archetypal dragon/chaos monster. Beowulf should maybe be on this list but I don’t remember it too well
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968. I mean obviously.
  • Shin Godzilla, 2016. Extremely smart use of an entrenched pop-culture genre as essentially political satire. I read a lot of people saying it didn’t make sense if you aren’t familiar with Japanese politics but I disagree!!
  • Arrival, 2016. The aliens are satisfyingly Weird to me but understanding them is treated as an achievable intellectual goal, so maybe it doesn’t belong on this list. anyway good movie
  • Dark Ecology by Timothy Morton, 2016. Ambitious and mystifying book that’s sort of about building a new way of relating to ecology and humanity, in the context of catastrophic climate change. A lot of time spent deconstructing mythologies of absolute truth that proceed from the invention of agriculture. Plato’s Revenge (2011) is a book that deals with some similar ideas but I did not like it so much
  • Orality and Literacy by Walter Ong, 1982. Broad & fascinating book on linguistics and the cultural shift represented by the invention of writing. The idea that literacy in particular concretizes our language and our models of the world is why it’s on this list.
Dragon Hunter:

*high fantasy idea I had in a dream once*

  • psychically-bonded Dragon Riders were once a thing but were all killed off during the [Standard War Against Darkness]
  • villages near the border of [Darkland/Standard Evil Eldritch Location, Land of Standard Dark Lord] are beset by a Black Dragon
  • a village decides to sacrifice a maiden to it, and pick that weirdo Will who lives alone on the edge of the forest
  • send a bunch of men out on the night of the full moon to drag Will to the Sacrifice Place 
  • but wouldn’t you know it they all end up red smears on the ground and instead of eating Will the Black Dragon is Vexed
  • they send another maiden to appease it but Will rescues her
  • then Jack (& his merry band of Dragon Hunters) turn up and decide to use Will as bait to lure the Black Dragon
  • But can’t do that in a populated place so, hey, why don’t we trek into [Standard Evil Eldritch Location]
  • And we’ll need a Guide - so what about this mysterious Darkland Expert Gentleman Mage, showing a marked interest in Will, who coincidentally just showed up? He seems trustworthy! 
  • ps. can we hurry this along Will is secretly a werewolf and doesn’t want to eat you all and especially not mysterious one-eyed Darkland Expert with whom he feels a curious affinity
  • pps. funfact: one of Standard Dark Lord’s Secret Dark Powers is the ability to turn into a Black Dragon

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The Princess in the Tower

“Well that’s a fine how-do-you-do, now isn’t it?” the young man complained, rubbing his sore head. “I climb all the way up this tower – not easy, by the way, for someone like me with noodle arms – and avoid large and angry vultures all the way up, and how am I greeted? A wallop on the head with a dictionary!”

“It wasn’t a dictionary!” The beautiful girl in front of him crossed her arms and smirked. “It was my copy of Beowulf, so there.”

“Aw, but I like Beowulf,” the prince mumbled sadly, as though taking offense at being struck with his favorite poem. “Fine! See if I rescue you then!”

The princess uncrossed her arms and planted her hands firmly on her hips. “And just who said I needed rescuing, eh? Maybe I just want to be left alone. A tower without doors or windows generally discourages visitors, blockhead.”

The prince blinked at this, and a suspicious frown made its way across his face. “Well that is certainly not what that king said.”

“Oh the king, is it?” The princess’s eyes narrowed. “He won’t accept no for an answer! Keeps sending me wave after wave of royal ninnies in need of marrying-”

“Who said I needed marrying?” the prince spluttered indignantly.

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Name: Grendel
Area of Origin: Old England

Grendel is one of three main antagonists in the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf (AD 700-1000), the other two being Grendel’s own mother and the dragon. Grendel’s description varies according to multiple translations of the story, so no depictions of the character seem to look much alike. Grendel is most often depicted as a giant or monster, with many of the same depictions adorning him with barbs on his body. One theory presents the idea that Grendel was not a supernatural monster, but a Viking Berserker of sorts; a giant terrible warrior. Grendel is feared by all but the young warrior Beowulf, who in battle, rips off the beast’s arm. Grendel retreats to his den to die to be avenged by his mother, a monster described as even more ferocious and unstoppable. 

Creature Appreciation: The Reputation of Smaug

Here’s another Creature Appreciation, and already I’m doing something a little different! You see, Smaug is extremely well known as the main antagonist of The Hobbit, one of the most influential pieces of fantasy media ever, along with Lord of the Rings, both done by J.R.R. Tolkien. These two works alone have pretty much cemented fantasy as it is today, for better or worse. Smaug himself influenced the dragons of D&D, which then influenced dragon portrayals in other media and so on and so forth, even though he’s actually based on at least two very specific mythological dragons, Fafnir and the Firedrake of Beowulf fame.

As someone who loves dragons, dragon related creatures, is writing a book about kaiju with a dragon inspired main kaiju, and follows many people well versed in the history behind various portrayals of dragons you’d think I’d be well versed in Smaug’s source material, but you would actually be very wrong. I have never read or seen any iteration of The Hobbit, or Lord of the Rings, aside from the old Rankin Bass Hobbit film as a child, which I hold practically no memory of, especially not of how Smaug was portrayed.

With that aside, this is going to be my appreciation of the reputation that Smaug holds, from people who have read, seen, and analyzed his various portrayals over the years. Most of it will be influenced by @tyrantisterror and @theload who have talked about him the most, so therefore have influenced my own opinion of the dragon more than any other media. With all that info aside, onto my appreciation of the Reputation of Smaug!

I’m gonna get this right out of the way, my favorite design I’ve seen for Smaug comes from the sketches by J.R.R. Tolkien himself! They depict Smaug with a face that very much reminds me of a fox, with a long serpentine body. The colors of his scales are also very nice, being predominantly shades of red, with some green thrown in for his lovely ears and claws. His stomach also appears to be white, without the coat of gold he covers it in. Of the pictures drawn by Tolkien, the one that has him lounging in his pile of gold is probably the best, and is the one that made me fall in love with the design. He just seems so relaxed, unthreatened amongst his hoard of riches, and from what I’ve heard about his personality, he deserves to be.

Smaug sounds like an excellent antagonist to his story, absolutely unstoppable aside from the weakness of the softer scales on his belly. However, Smaug is more than just an immensely strong dragon, though he is definitely that, he is also a very clever one. He is fully aware of his only weakness, and to compensate, he covers it with the very gold he hoards, therefore negating it. It sounds like a brilliant move, fitting for such an influential creature. He’s not only brawn, he’s also brains, which he proves by not only covering his only weakness, but by having a verbal battle with the protagonist of the story, who had already proven his own wit, one that I still have no idea how he fails! He sounds like such a memorable villain, one of the ones that really deserves the dread he builds up in the characters. He is as dangerous as everyone fears, perhaps even more so. He isn’t just a dragon. He’s Smaug.

If a character can leave such an impression on me purely through his reputation alone, then that says a lot about the father of the modern dragon.

BEOWULF GETS HIS JUST DESSERTS

BEOWULF, RENOWNED MURDERER OF OLD LADIES, HAS RETIRED WITH A MASSIVE HEAP OF MOTHERFUCKING TREASURE. HE’S KING OF SOMEWHERE AND EVERYONE LOVES HIM BECAUSE HE KILLS FUCKING MONSTERS. 

ONE DAY, ONE OF HIS MEN STEALS A GOLDEN CUP. FROM A MOTHERFUCKING DRAGON. THE DRAGON SHOWS UP AT BEOWULF’S HOUSE, TAKES THE CUP BACK AND SETS FIRE TO EVERYTHING. THIS IS ALL THE EXCUSE THAT BEOWULF (NOW AN OLD MAN BUT STILL A MURDERER) NEEDS TO FETCH HIS SWORD AND GO KILL THINGS.

HE SETS OFF TO MURDER THE DRAGON, BUT THIS IS A FUCKING DRAGON NOT SOME OLD LADY. THEY FIGHT FOR AGES, BUT BEOWULF DOESN’T STAND A FUCKING CHANCE. ALL HIS MEN, SEEING THAT HE NEEDS HELP, FUCK OFF AND ABANDON HIM.

ALL EXCEPT ONE. WIGLAF, HIS BEST FRIEND, GRABS A SWORD AND JOINS IN. BETWEEN THE TWO OF THEM, THEY MURDER THE DRAGON AND STEAL ALL ITS FUCKING GOLD. BEOWULF, HOWEVER, HAS BEEN MORTALLY WOUNDED IN THE FIGHT AND DIES SHORTLY AFTERWARDS.

WHAT A FUCKING ANTICLIMAX.

A variation of the draugr is the haugbui. The haugbui (from Old Norse haugr’ “howe, barrow, tumulus”) was a mound-dweller, the dead body living on within its tomb. The notable difference between the two was that the haugbui is unable to leave its grave site and only attacks those that trespass upon their territory.

The haugbui was rarely found far from its burial place and is a type of undead commonly found in Norse saga material. The creature is said to either swim alongside boats or sail around them in a partially submerged vessel, always on their own. In some accounts, witnesses portray them as shapeshifters who take on the appearance of seaweed or moss-covered stones on the shoreline.

The words dragon and draugr are not linguistically related. However, both the serpent and the spirit serve as jealous guardians of the graves of kings or ancient civilizations. Dragons that act as draugar appear in Beowulf as well as in some of the heroic lays of the Poetic Edda (in the form of Fafnir).

I think people tend to over inflate Strength estimates in 5th edition D&D.

A veteran is 16 Strength. That’s our equivalent to a very high level military operative. Maybe super-elites hit as high as 17. World’s Strongest men competitors hit 18. And that’s it. Ogres are 19. This is when you get, at best, historical legends like Pier Gerlofs Donia.

20 Strength in mortal humans is pretty much not something that happens in real life. 19-20 is your Beowulf, Guts, and Gregor Clegane level.

IMPORTANT NEWS

I hereby declare that there is a shocking need for dragon!cas fic. Born a dragon, accidentally changed into a dragon, mindswapped with a dragon, humanoid dragon, Hobbit AU with Smaug!Castiel, HTTYD, Temeraire, Pern, Narnia - hell, Beowulf if that’s your thing - but we need all the dragons! ladydrace is considering a Pern AU, I am toying with Voyage of the Dawn Treader, kototyph has already got a head start with a Temeraire AU, but don’t let that stop you - we need more! Octo!cas is lovely, but let’s diversify a little, all ye creature-Cas writers! Drabbles, ficlets, epics, smut, fluff, h/c, drama - let’s go!