Every epic hero possesses certain heroic characteristics. Beowulf, like other epic heroes, possesses the following heroic qualities: epic heroes are superhuman types of beings. They have a noble birth and show great bravery. They display great intelligence and resourcefulness. They have a reverence for G-d and for the values of their society. They are dominant male figures and suffer severe pain, but in the end, they conquer evil (Vivone 9/27/99). In addition to Beowulf’s heroic qualities, he is very strong.
Beowulf was said to have “the strength of thirty [men] in his mighty handgrip” (Bloom 11). Early proof of Beowulf’s extraordinary strength is evidenced by his dismemberment of Grendel’s limb, the fight in the cave under water, and the magic sword (Klaeber xiv). Beowulf partook in many supernatural battles and events. The demeanor of Beowulf is considered a main fantastic element. When Beowulf fights Grendel and Grendel’s mother, he is immortal. Then, suddenly, he becomes mortal and falls to the dragon (Klaeber xxiv). In Beowulf, marvelous elements are everywhere.
They include a fire breathing dragon and sea monsters (Burlin 119). There are additional examples of the use of fantastic elements in Beowulf. Beowulf single-handedly carrier thirty suits of armor from the battlefield in Frisnia and swims with them through the North Sea and the Skagerrak to Geatland, a distance of five hundred miles (120). In Beowulf’s early life, he swam for five to seven days with his companion Breca, killing sea monsters by night. During his swim match with Breca, Beowulf dressed in full armor, was attacked by nine sea monsters and killed them all.
Grendel is a monster, who occupies a human-like form; he is devilish and is a descendant of Cain. He is “the guardian of sins”. He is similar to Satan, because he is superhuman in size and strength and is hostile towards man. Grendel kills mortals by devouring men whole. Grendel has terrorized Herot for twelve years. Grendel attacks only one night; one time he grabs thirty people and takes “his slaughtered feast of men to his lair’ (Bloom 10). Grendel eats the flesh and blood of men and enters their houses by way of doors (Nicholson 74).
Before Beowulf attempted to rid the land of Grendel, men tried to slaughter him, “but their points could not hurt him, the sharpest and hardest iron could not scratch at his skin” (48). Beowulf kills Grendel by first watching his attack. Beowulf grabs hold of Grendel’s claws and finally rips off his arm. In the morning, warriors look for the body of Grendel by following his bloody trail. They cannot find his body and turn back. Hrothgar’s men finally think that they no longer will be plagued with the presence of the monster and that now they can sleep in peace.
However, their sleep did not last long. During the night, Grendel’s mother came to avenge her son’s death. She enters the hall and grabs Aeschere and her son’s arm. Beowulf goes to follow her and swims for an entire day in her pool before he sees the bottom of the mere. When Beowulf descends into Grendel’s mere, he loses ground as the fight progresses. It is then assumed that Beowulf is fighting desperately for his life. Then, the water closed over him. It was “the space of a day,” before he could see the bottom of the mere (Burlin 121).
The hero’s physical powers grow far beyond human dimensions. Beowulf is about to attempt to use a weapon although they were useless against her; “then he saw, hanging on the wall, a heavy sword… but so massive that no ordinary man could life its carved and decorated length” (72). Once he is in Grendel’s mother’s mere, Beowulf remains underwater for more than a day (Burlin 120). Finally, Beowulf kills Grendel’s mother, and her blood melts his sword (Bloom 16). Thus far, Beowulf has killed two man-like monsters.
Beowulf’s last battle with a dragon is the final substantial fantastic element in this epic poem. W. P. Ker, a nineteenth-century critic, asserts the dragons are commonly fit for fables and contain more of a fantastic nature than Grendel does. He believes that Grendel is much better suited than a dragon; however, a dragon turns up in Beowulf. Dragons are more often seen as fabulous monsters because they do not exist as part of the environment (62). Dragon fights and fire-breathing dragons were prevalent in medieval literature.
Too much time was spent on the details of the dragon in this epic poem (Klaeber xxi). For instance, “If the dragon is the right end for Beowulf… then Grendel is an eminently suitable beginning. They are creatures [enemies of mankind] of a similar order and kindred significance. Triumph over the lesser and more nearly human is cancelled by defeat before the older and more elemental” (Nicholson 86). When Beowulf has failed to kill the dragon, “with all his strength, [he] smashed the gray blade into the beast’s head.
But then Nagling broke to pieces… ” (106). Then, Beowulf uses his dagger and “quickly cut the beast in half, slit it apart” (107). Conquering all evil, Beowulf leaves his people safely, while he dies next to Wiglaf in excruciating pain. Therefore, fantastic elements appear throughout Beowulf and serve to display the heroic qualities of the epic’s protagonist. Fantastic elements are supernatural or superhuman events that cannot be explained and that exist beyond nature.
Beowulf is seen to be a superhero because of the feats and tasks he engages in that appears to be fantastic in nature. Analyzing Beowulf’s three battles, one can easily see fantastic elements in this epic poem. The battle with Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon display an array of fantastic elements. The reader must remember not to ask questions about how anything described are possible. Man cannot explain any fantastic element because it is beyond nature’s control. Beowulf’s heroic qualities are further exemplified by the use of fantastic elements.