The word “monsters” often brings to mind childhood fears that something ugly lurks under your bed, waiting for your feet to dangle over the side so it can pull you under. It reminds you of the time when you were so afraid of the dark that you had to quickly leave the room after turning off the lights just to reduce the chances of that beast in your closet devouring you. How _____________ last night.
Monsters, of course, are also important literary devices and symbols that have been used to represent the unknown, the inexplicable, and the truly spooky parts of our world. Deeply steeped in fantasy and myth, monster stories are often about facing a great fear, usually death. Such is the case with the Old English epic Beowulf, which has more mythological beasts than an episode of HBO’s True Blood. You have dragons, sea monsters, a half-human descendant of Cain named Grendel, and his protective mother. JRR Tolkien, author of the equally fantastic Lord of the Rings trilogy, was a strong supporter of examining the use of fantasy and monsters in Beowulf, arguing in the famous lecture “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” that such elements were a work of art and integral to the poem’s themes of mortality, bravery, and even religion.
Grendel is the biggest idiot ever, attacking King Hrothgar’s mead hall and eating his warriors for a late-night snack. This is your worst childhood nightmare come true: the monsters are not only real, but they also break into where you sleep and eat you up like a bag of chips. The fact that the attacks take place at night in the dark, desolate and eerie tribal regions of the Denmark/Sweden area only amplifies the fear plaguing King Hrothgar’s people. No wonder they are all together in one giant mead hall.
Of course, such fear must be conquered. Enter Beowulf, a fearless warrior unfazed by the possibility of death, mother monsters, or his overbearing mothers. Long story short, he kills them all victoriously, despite the fact that his last encounter with the dragon cost him his life, coming out as the singular hero who saved countless people. Hurrah!
But certain fear is not so beatable. The fear of creatures or outside elements infiltrating a shelter is also found in William Golding’s classic novel Lord of the Flies, in which a herd of British children wash up on a deserted tropical island and begin to settle. a semi-society for them to survive. something like the Dane and Geat tribes depicted in Beowulf. All the children are afraid of an imaginary beast somewhere on the island, offering it severed pig heads to appease it, as if it were a monster under a bed that could be satisfied with a teddy bear lying under it so it doesn’t gobble you up. until. Talk about childhood nightmares. Of course, childhood fears manifest in other events that mystify children, such as a lifeless skydiver sliding onto the island.
However, the fear that torments them is not a Grendel-like creature that can be vanquished, it is something within the children. Simon, the only boy on the island who understands this fact, confirms his suspicions after having an amazing conversation with that severed pig’s head. Like Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, in which a rather one-sided chatter with a majestic bird causes the speaker to project his own fears and sorrows until he descends into madness, Simon’s pig-headed chatter also reflects the Inner demons and monsters that are at work within the human psyche. There are no dragons to slay, no battles to fight, and no chance for a Beowulf character to ride out and save the day. The epic poem focuses on the external and more manageable unknown, while Golding’s novel takes the unknown and follows that fear within. And that monster is something you can’t combat with a night light.