The tale of Beowulf is one of constant tranformation. Great warriors and leaders turn into cowering peons. Faithful Christians convert to devil worship. Devout followers flee at the sight of trouble. Many people’s morals change quickly and drastically at the sight of change. Personal turmoil abounds with changing values brought by changing times. People remain content as long as nothing challenges them, but at the first sight of change chaos occurs. One case of how change causes people to forsake their values happens when Grendel makes his first appearance at Herot.
In Herot lives Hrothgar who “… ed/ The Danes to such glory that comrades and kinsmen/ Swore by his sword, and young men swelled ( Beowulf lines 64-67). Hrothgar is a mighty leader of the Danes, but at the sight of a different foe, a change, Hrothgar turns tail and runs. He does not once try to face Grendel. He instead lets his people live in terror. The Hrothgar that is described before the arrival of Grendal is a completely different person, mentally, than the Hrothgar that is terrorized by the monster. He knows only one type of enemy, humans, and once that changes he loses all his leadership power.
A true man of value will keep his values no matter what change takes place. Fate does not play a role in Hrothgar’s actions. He is caught up in pride about all his achievements. This makes him weak to being caught by change. He beomes so comfortable in his station that he narrows his comfort zone to such a level that any amount of change will throw him off. Everything that happens is by his own accord. Hrothgar is a perfect example of how people cannot mentally fight evil. Without the constant attack of evil, one will not be able to deal with it when it arises.
Hrothgar is not exposed to evil, so when it rears its ugly head his only reaction is to flee. If someone lives in a utopia and leaves, they will not be able to deal with the evil they find because they have never dealt with it before. Good cannot combat evil if it has never known evil. The only way to resolve Hrothgar’s situation is to bring in someone who knows evil and faces it well, is not prideful, and can adapt to change well. In the tale, that is exactly how the problem is solved. Beowulf comes and battles Grendel. He represents everythig that Hrothgar is not.
Hrothgar is not the only one whose values change when Grendel comes. The best and most noble of Hrothgar’s counsil abandoned their Christian values in an attempt to combat change. “They sacrificed to the old stone gods,/ Made heathen vows, hoping for Hell’s/ Support, the Devil’s guidance in driving/ Their affliction off” (175-178). The Christain nobles see change and do not know how to deal with it. They fall back to their old pagan ways. They are trying to combat evil with evil. Their Christian values are all but lost. This can tell us something big about the culture of the time.
They were comfortable in their old ways. In this case, at the sight of change, they abandon everything that is good. This means that evil leads to evil. Goodness is only needed when times are favorable, and outcoming evil will also lead to evil, which is a never-ending chain of evil. The only way to battle the evil is to stand for good. This is exactly what Beowulf does. He does not put his trust in the Devil, but rather God. Some put put their trust in man. This makes them vulnerable to destruction if the man fails. Beowulf is a mighty man who proves his strength in battle.
His followers think of him as an immortal type of figure. Do his followers fight along side their king when they see that an immortal is getting beat? No, “they ran for their lives, fled/ Deep in a wood” (2598-2599). So much for brave and noble followers. They put so much trust in Beowulf to deliver them from the dragon, that they cannot even concieve his failure. When it happens they fear that all is lost. How could any of them beat the dragon if an immortal cannot? They do not even think that Beowulf has a chance of losing prior to the battle.
Too much trust being placed in one man leads to chaos if the man fails. The idea of helping Beowulf never enters their minds. Once they see that Beowulf is losing, their minds cannot handle it and they run. Wiglaf never sees Beowulf as an immortal. He sees him as a great leader. Immortals never need help, however leaders never fight alone. Wiglaf does not help in the beginning because Beowulf thinks he can win on his own. Wiglaf reacts when he sees that his king is in. He does this because he is prepared for change.
Preparation is all that is needed to deal with any change. People who are content in their station of life will not be able to adapt to change well. Hrothgar sinks into cowardice, his nobles sink into their old pagan ways, and Beowulf’s followers sink into utter chaos. The only cure for change is preparation. Beowulf shows this by facing Grendel, and Wiglaf shows this when assisting Beowulf against the dragon. Beowulf is prepared by his past experiences, and Wiglaf is prepared by his logical thoughts of his king. Those who fail to prepare, prepare to fail.