Beowulf and the Hero’s Journey
Joseph Campbell’s term monomyth can be described as a hero’s journey. Many heroic characters follow the monomyth, no matter the time period or culture the literature was created in. The poem Beowulf is known to follow the adventure of the hero described in Campbell’s monomyth . The hero’s journey consists of three rites of passages: separation, initiation, and return. Beowulf endures each of these stages throughout the epic poem, so his journey does follow Campbell’s monomyth. The separation is the first stage a hero must go through in his or her journey.
This stage consists of “a blunder -apparently the merest chance- reveals an unsuspected world, and the individual is drawn into a relationship with forces that are not rightly understood. ” (42) This is known as the hero’s call to adventure. In Beowulf, Beowulf “heard how Grendel filled nights with horror and quickly commanded a boat fitted out. ” (197-98) Beowulf couldn’t stay away when he heard that help was greatly needed defeating Grendel; he accumulated his men right away and shipped off to Denmark. The next step is the refusal to call.
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Beowulf does not refuse to go on this adventure because of his honor. He believes he is the strongest Geat and can defeat anything. Following this step is supernatural aid. Supernatural aid “provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass. ” (Campbell 57) In Beowulf the help can be considered God. Beowulf often thanks God for helping him on his journey. For instance, “He relied on for help on the Lord of All, on His care and favour. ” (1271-72) The final stage in separation is the crossing of the threshold.
In this case the threshold can be considered the ocean. Beowulf and his crew had to cross the ocean in order to come to Denmark to kill Grendel. When they arrive in Denmark they are basically starting their adventure right then, vowing to try and protect. The second rite of passage in the monomyth is initiation. “ The hero moves in a dream landscape or curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. ” (Campbell 81) This is known as the road of trials. Beowulf is tested when Grendel’s mother retaliates to her son’s death.
She lashes out and kills Hrothgar’s best man. Then, Beowulf goes down into her cave where he duels her. He nearly loses his life when both his sword and armor fail him. “No sword could slice her evil skin , that Hrunting could not hurt her, was useless now when he needed it. ” (1521-24) He took a magical sword that was hanging on her wall and killed her with it. Beowulf’s helpers in this stage would be the sword and God. Without the sword he would not have been to kill Grendel’s mother. Beowulf relies on God’s help and often gives Him thanks after a battle is over.
The next stage in his journey is the climax or final battle. After defeating Grendel’s mother, Beowulf returns to his hometown where he reigns as king for fifty years. He is a good king, keeping peace in his country. After fifty years of peace, a fire-breathing dragon is awoken, so he must go protect his people. Beowulf and his warriors venture out to the dragon’s lair. He goes in alone, confident that he can defeat the beast. He is sadly mistaken; Beowulf’s armor starts to melt and his sword breaks against the dragon‘s scaly back.
He was left there to die when all of his fellow warriors ran away cowardly into the woods. Only one brave soldier remained: Wiglaf. The final stage in initiation is the hero’s flight. This story’s flight is Wiglaf saving Beowulf. Wiglaf runs into the dragon’s home with honor saying, “I’d rather burn myself than see flames swirling around my lord. ” (2651-52) Wiglaf defeated the monster, but couldn’t save Beowulf. One of the dragon’s tusks have been stabbed into his neck, making it impossible to save him.
As death surrounded Beowulf, he made Wiglaf the new ruler of the Geats. This was the final stage in the initiation of Beowulf’s journey The final rite of passage is the return. The return is the end of the hero’s adventure. Campells states, “his return is described as coming back out of the yonder zone. ” (188) When Beowulf dies, peace is lost in his country. His country ultimately returns to fighting and war. The end is really the beginning for a new ruler, Wiglaf, and a new time period of fighting.
The final part of the hero’s journey is the elixir. An elixir is something the hero obtained during his journey that can be shared with society. It often defines the hero’s role in the society. Beowulf’s elixir could be considered his story. Beowulf brought insight to his people and to the Danes that one can defeat demons and receive redemption. He showed them this when he defeated both Grendel and his mother and battled the dragon. Additionally, Beowulf’s blessing of peace could be considered the elixir. While he was in rule, his land was safe.
He kept peace for his people. Beowulf acquired this peace by defeating Grendel and proving that he was strong. The final rite of passage in the hero’s journey is basically just returning back to the beginning, or where the hero was at before his adventure started. Beowulf is a great example of Campbell’s monomyth. “The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation — initiation — return: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth. (Campbell 23) Beowulf’s journey follows each of these passages. First, is the separation. Beowulf begins his journey here and defeats Grendel. Next, is the initiation. Beowulf defeats Grendel’s mother, becomes king of the Geats, and battles the dragon in this stage. Finally, is the return. After he dies, peace is lost. The land he once ruled returns to a land of war and fighting. Although Beowulf does not exactly follow the hero’s journey, he does follow the main points Campbell makes in his monomyth. In conclusion, Beowulf follows the monomyth on his adventure.