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In Beowulf, the three great fights are an interesting representative of man’s trust in God. We can see Beowulf’s ability to succeed decline with his need for weapons, armor, and the help of friends in Beowulf’s first battle, we see the true Christian spirit. While it is true that Beowulf is upholding the image of the hero, he is doing it for a very noble cause in this fight. Grendel, who Beowulf fights in this battle, is said to be from the race of Cain and so is in a feud with God. The monster would hate anyone that God smiles on.
The fact that Grendel moves only at night also makes us see the evil side of him. He hates the light from the hall. He seems to be jealous of the love and warmth that it signifies. He attacks without any real provocation.
When Hrothgar finds out that Beowulf has come to help him in his fight against Grendel, he says “Holy God of His Grace has sent him to us West-Danes, as I hope, against the terror of Grendel.” This sets the idea of good against evil. Beowulf will represent God and Grendel represents the devil. Beowulf strengthens this view with his decision to fight Grendel with out any weapons. He is willing to let the Lord decide who will win this battle – “The one whom death takes can trust the Lord’s judgement.”
Beowulf is showing a lot of faith in this action. While his strength is often talked about, so is Grendel’s. We are told of Grendel’s war-strength. Beowulf would have known these stories and still choose to trust in God’s spiritual help instead of man’s physical help.
When we turn to the second battle, things are a little different. For one thing, Grendel’s mother is not just acting out of hatred. She is seeking justice for her son’s death. She only kills one man – similar to the idea of a blood feud that Beowulf and his contemporaries would understand.
When Beowulf decides to go after Grendel’s mother, he is offered the use of Hrothgar’s sword, Hrunting. He accepts the offer. Grendel’s mother’s strength is never emphasized as Grendel’s was, but Beowulf decides he needs a weapon against her. This seems strange unless you realize he has not talked about the backing of God in this fight.
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It is interesting to note that the human weapon he takes with him into battle is of no use. He ends up killing Grendel’s mother with a supernatural sword made by giants. It is almost a sign that weapons of the physical world are worthless in these fights.
The third battle is very different from the first two. This time Beowulf is defending his own Kingdom against the rage of a dragon. But the dragon is like Grendel’s mother in that he is not unprovoked. Some of the treasure he hoards has been stolen from under his nose. He is furious and looking for vengeance. As a result, Beowulf feels he has to kill the dragon to keep his people safe. Once again a somewhat noble cause, but more for the “hero” reasons than the “Christian” reasons.
When Beowulf goes into this battle, he is armed fully and has the help of a friend. Even with all these physical assists, he does not fare well. While he does kill the dragon, the dragon also kills him.
It is very interesting to note the differences and similarities in these three fights. All of Beowulf’s conflicts are with creatures of the night. But Grendel is the only one that appears to be a true enemy of God. In the battle with Grendel, Beowulf does seem to be a servant of God. He is stopping a true evil, a descendant of the race of Cain. He knows he can trust in the power of God to help him in this battle.
On the other hand, Grendel’s mother and the dragon have valid reasons for their attacks. Beowulf changes his strategy to depend on things of this world. While he is successful in both cases, neither is as cut and dried as the battle with Grendel. The earthly swords he uses in both battles are useless. In the battle with Grendel’s mother, he is fortunate to have access to a supernatural sword. In the battle with the dragon, he has the help of a friend and ends up killing the dragon with his knife.
Also interesting to note is the addition of treasure to each battle. In fighting Grendel, Beowulf expects nothing but the fame due a hero. In the battle with Grendel’s mother, there is much said about the treasure he can receive. While he does not appear to be influenced by this treasure, he does take much of it back to his King. In fighting the dragon, there is the obvious prize of winning the treasure. While Beowulf says he wants the treasure for his people, it ends up mainly being buried with him.
The three battles of Beowulf seem to have a definite message. If you can rely on the natural gifts you have received from God and know you have God’s backing, you will win any fight. But if you have to resort to trusting in the physical gifts of our world, the battle may be much more costly. The message seems quite clear. If you really read this story and see the significance of the three battles, it may help you to make the right decisions in your life. Do you choose God’s natural path, or do you choose one brought on by human’s need for revenge and dominance?