The Wanderer: Christianity for a Pagan World

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The Wanderer: Christianity for a Pagan World

The introduction of Christianity and its culture to the Anglo-Saxon culture brought about an intriguing blend of these two often opposing sets of beliefs. In literature this blend frequently manifests itself as an overlay--Christianity is simply imposed in short spurts upon preexisting works. The demonstration of this practice is not difficult to find in Anglo-Saxon literature. Scanning a section of Anglo-Saxon works from nearly any literature anthology will most likely uncover several such overlays per page. These overlays, however, are not the focus of this essay. This essay will focus on one work that does more with Christian culture. Rather than presenting Christianity through overlay, the Anglo-Saxon poem, "The Wanderer," addresses directly the issues of Christianity. A traditional reading of "The Wanderer" claims that it is a poem about a thane who has lost his liege-lord and about the torment this thane experiences while in search of a new lord and mead-hall. This reading is not incorrect, but a new reading will show that it is incomplete. In the new and more complete reading, the wanderings of the thane become an extended metaphor for the pagan society's members' search for a valid opinion about the fate of traditional Anglo-Saxon culture, brought about by the introduction of Christian culture.

Not only is this new reading available, but it actually becomes necessary when the text is examined carefully. For example, the function of the narrator is unclear in the traditional reading. The narrator's appearance is very brief. He is present for one sentence in the opening of the poem, to introduce the main character and to present him as a respectable figure...

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... Christian beliefs, as The Wanderer demonstrates. Should we discount the possibility that other authors of the time could have worked in the same way as the author of this poem? We should look in other works for the presentation of respectable or heroic main characters as examples and teachers of Christian ideals, where these main character's pagan customs serve as lures to bring the contemporary audience close, and as familiar handles to which the audience can cling while being taken on their permanent journey into the Christian culture.

Works Cited and Consulted

Baswell and Schotter: "The Middle Ages," pp. 1-26; The Dream of the Rood, The Wanderer, (700/900), Five Old English Riddles (pp. 150-51), translated from Old English

"The Wanderer." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993. 68-70.

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