Making A Christian Epic From A Pagan Legend: A Study Of Beowulf


Beowulf is the highest literary mark of Old English literature. It describes a society in the midst of great changes, particularly transitioning from a pagan to a Christian society. What many of the Christian leaders tried was to take existing pagan symbols and stories and repackage them as Christian. So when one reads a story like Beowulf, one can see both pagan and Christian elements. One of the best examples is the constant appeals for men to be humble before God, and yet the main characters, particularly Beowulf, demonstrates great pride. Also, Christian faith points to eternity as being with God in Heaven, but pagan eternal life was having a great reputation that lived long after you, and the best reputation was to be a great warrior. And while the pagan elements are clear in Beowulf, the more evident use of the piece is the interposition of Christian elements over the old pagan story, because that is clearly why it was written for us.


Beowulf shows its Christian fingerprints the clearest in all of the conflicts end up being types of good versus evil. Grendel is described as a descendant of Cain. In the book of Genesis, Cain is mostly known as a murderer, but this results from unacceptable worship. Further, the Nephilim were descendants of Cain before the flood, who were supposed to be giants. These Nephilim were among the wicked destroyed in the flood. Further, Grendel like Cain was jealous. So when Grendel is described as a descendant of Cain, we can gather he is abnormal in appearance, wicked, murderous, and one who worships in vain. In short, Grendel represents the pagans. And the conflict of Beowulf versus Grendel as a type of good versus evil ends up being a struggle between Christianity and paganism. Beowulf never outright kills Grendel, but tears off his arm. And just as Christianity did not obliterate idolatry from Europe, it clearly disarmed it, at least, according to the Beowulf poet.

Grendel’s Mother

Following this, Beowulf has to combat Grendel’s mother. There is half as much said about her as there is Grendel or the dragon, so interpretations of her place can be speculative. Typically she is defined by her relationship to Grendel or by being a woman. And so she ends up being evil just because she’s Grendel’s mother, and nothing more. But there must be something that can touched upon. Grendel’s mother seems to brush up again the world of spells and charms, and she probably is a sea-witch. In contrast to Beowulf’s giant sword (which fails), her only weapon is a small dagger. This may represent her tongue with which she casts spells. And when she knocks Beowulf to the ground, she mounts him in what is clearly a sexual position. There were witches thought of in this time who would subdue men by raping them, and this is more than likely what the poet has in mind. But I think there may be a more basic use for Grendel’s mother, one that is not so mystical. She appears in an instant, wipes out a room, and disappears just as quickly. Grendel’s mother may just as well symbolize disease, famine, and plague. As blessings came from God, sickness was often thought to come from the devil. The lesson for the reader is simple: turn your life over to Christianity and you and your family will not fall prey to disease.

The Dragon

Many see Beowulf as a symbol of Christ himself, but I do not think that is warranted. Instead, I would argue that he represents Christianity, or better yet, a Christian individual. I gather this from the struggle with the dragon. Clearly, the dragon is a symbol of the devil. This is an image that even the Bible uses for the Great Adversary. And while the dragon is slain, Beowulf also dies in this conflict. What is significant in that Beowulf seems to die as a result of the curse on the dragon’s gold. In the Bible, the curse that comes from the devil is sin, and the wages of sin is death. Christ came to free us from the curse of sin, but that doesn’t mean that a Christian can still allow himself to recursed and slain by his own intemperance. If we remember the swimming contest, Beowulf was taken to the bottom of the ocean by a sea-monster. This clearly brings to mind the story of Jonas. But Jesus referred to himself as Jonas by his death, burial, and resurrection and how that is similar to Jonah going to the bottom of hell and rising up from that. But I priorly mentioned Beowulf is not a Christ-figure, but a Christian. For one to become a Christian they must reenact the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus by their own repentance and baptism, from which they arise from the waters in a new life. Beowulf’s long trip to the bottom of the sea and back is not emblematic of him as Jesus, but a follower of Jesus. And yet he died because the dragon’s curse, the curse of sin from yielding to the devil. This yielding could be in his pride or even greed. Possibly the point to this is to usurp the pagan view of eternal life. Even a great warrior and hero can be spiritually failing. In this, Beowulf ends up being a cautionary tale for all those who would go back to paganism in any of its forms. And so the final description of Beowulf as one who was eager for fame may be a condemnation and not a commendation.

As writers, we all sorts of reference points for tales. We can take any one of them and make them our own, just as the ancient English monk did by writing out Beowulf for all of us. When you write something, even if you are rewriting something old, it is yours. You have no obligation to the former story to be faithful to its rendering. Your only obligation is to yourself and your story.

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Top Ten Of My Favorite Dying Word Of Characters In Literature

We’ve always been fascinated with dying declarations. A man’s last words often stand out as the essence of what he wants to be known of him. This is true for fictional characters as well for those who were real and historical. Here is my top ten list of my all-time favorite last words of dying characters in literature.

10 Beowulf from the anonymous poet’s Beowulf: “You are the last of us, the only one left of the Waegmundings. Fate swept us all away, sent my whole brave high-born clan to theirfinal doom. Now I must follow them”

9 Anna Karenina from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: “Lord, forgive me everything.”

8 J.P. McMurphy from Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest: “I’ve took their best punch.”

7 Othello from Shakespeare’s Othello: “I kiss’d thee ere I kill’d thee: no way but this; killing myself, to die upon a kiss.”

6 Johnny Cade from Hinton’s The Outsiders: “Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.”

5 Jean Valjean from Hugo’s Les Miserables: “[My] children, my sight is failing. I had more to say, but no matter. Think of me sometimes. You are fortunate. I don’t know what is happening to me, I can see a light. Come closer. I die happy. Bow your dear heads so that I may lay my hands on them.”

4 Mr. Kurtz from Conrad’s The Heart Of Darkness: “The horror! The horror!”

3 Sydney Carton from Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

2 Captain Ahab from Melville’s Moby-Dick: “To the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee!”

1 Roddy Compson from Abbott’s Prince: “My God, but life is beautiful.”

Okay, I included one of my own. But it is a good line, isn’t it? You might want to make your own list. If you do, let me know about it in the Comments section. Also, let me know what lines you would have added or which ones of mine you would have left out. And please, share this will all those you know who love good books.

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Today’s Stop On The Bloodhound Virtual Book Tour


Today the Bloodhound blog tour makes a stop at Vickie Miller’s site. She gave me a great interview, and I amso thankful for her support. Here’s a link to her post

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Moving Along The Bloodhound Virtual Book Tour


Today’s Bloodhound blog tour stops at K.M. Weiland’s excellent site, Helping Writers Become Authors. Here’s a link to my article comparing Creative Writers to The Doctor – Check out her site, it is a wonderful resource for writers. Thanks to K.M. for her help.

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Next Stop On The Bloodhound Virtual Book Tour


I’m thrilled to announce that today’s stop on my Bloodhound Virtual Book Tour is an interview on the website Quid Pro Quills. Here’s a link to the interview – I am thankful for their help to my friend Robin Patchen for arranging this. Be sure and visit her site and pick up a copy of Bloodhound soon.

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The Bloodhound Virtual Book Tour Continues


The Bloodhound Virtual Book Tour began yesterday to a rousing success. It continues today with a stop at Beth Hammond’s website. She posted an article of mine entitled “Rewriting The Classics.” Here is a link to the article My thanks to Beth for helping me promote Bloodhound.


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Bloodhound Virtual Book Tour Begins Today


The first stop on the Bloodhound Virtual Book Tour is on Michele Mathews’s website. The article is entitled “Putting The ‘Creative’ Back In Creative Writing.” Here’s a link to the article – I want to thank Michele for hosting my post and supporting the Bloodhound Tour!

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Bloodhound Available on Amazon and Kindle


I am thrilled to announce the launch of my ninth book and fifth novel, Bloodhound. You can find it now on Amazon and Kindle. Click this link to buy your own copy –

Bloodhound is the pathos of a Depression-era Oklahoma lawman, Oscar Morgan. He labors to keep himself and his reputation pure in a world of crime, even when others in the position of law and order are not themselves beyond reproach. While surrounded by meanness and cruelty, Oscar strives to remain a kind man, and in the end works toward his own redemption.

Please share this announcement with everyone.

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Top Ten Heroes In Literature


Often the term “hero” and “main character” or “protagonist” are used interchangeably. But in truth there is very little heroic about the main characters in stories. They may be decent people who do good things, but being heroic is quite different. There needs to be a sacrifice for the greater good to be a genuine hero. Jay Gatsby isn’t a hero, and neither is Holden Caulfield. Even Leopold Bloom, who is quite explicitly based on Ulysses, is not much of a hero. So here are my favorite Top Ten list of real heroes from literature. I intentionally left out anything from the Classical Greek or Roman tales because they would obviously dominate the list.

10 Figaro from The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro, and The Guilty Mother by Pierre Beaumarchais – I may be playing favorites by including this one, but Figaro may be the best character is all of literature. He tells the nobles what they need to hear and he uses his wits to get over on them.

Don Carlos from Don Carlos by Friedrich Schiller – The Roman Catholic King Philip II of Spain went to war against all Protestant countries since they were heretics. In the Schiller play, Philip’s son Carlos stands up to him and defends the people of Holland whom he would oppress, even though it would cost the prince his life.

Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens – Sydney becomes a selfless hero who sacrifices himself for love as well as for the cause of revolution. You would think much of him when you see him at the beginning of the novel where he’s a selfish drunken barrister.

Robert Jordan from For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway – We already know that Robert Jordan is heroic in his devotion to his politics and his voluntary work as a demolitionist in the Spanish Civil War working for the loyalists. But he learn to love his new family rebels and lays his life down for them to save theirs.

Abraham van Helsing from Dracula by Bram Stoker – You may not know that Bram is the diminutive for Abraham. Bram Stroker wrote Abraham van Helsing seeing himself as the brave hero who fights evil monsters.

Wilhelm Tell from Wilhelm Tell by Friedrich Schiller – The legend of Wilhelm Tell long predates the play by Schiller, but it is the stagework that stapled him down as a hero for the world to admire and not just the Swiss.

Hamlet from Hamlet by William Shakespeare – Hamlet never sought out to be a hero, and he clearly struggled with his responsibilities. Some think him unheroic because of his wishy-washiness, but he is the thoughtful and deliberate hero who doesn’t rush in blindly without thinking. Most other people in his place couldn’t be a Hamlet, but a maybe a J. Alfred Proofrock.

Beowulf from Beowulf (anon.) – This epic of unknown authorship is about a Scandinavian hero, and yet this is considered a towering work of English literature. Go figure. But no one can deny his heroism, fighting monsters and dragons, and living well by the ancient desire to seek fame.

Jean Valjean from Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – This is the quiet hero who’s great works are unseen and unknown. His love was obvious to his adopted daughter, but his sacrifice her and her husband and for so many others is unknown until he dies

1  Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Maybe the nicest guy in all of literature. Just thinking of his greatness makes me cry. He stands against racism and other forms of showing respect of persons regardless to the cost for him.

So what do you think of the list? What would you have done differently? Who would you have included, and who would you have left out? Let me know in the Comment section below. If you want to make your own top ten list of heroes, let me know about it. Post your list in the Comments, or if your post yours online, give me the link in the Comments so that others can see your list, too. And please hare this others who love good stories and great heroes.


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Writing Elemental Characters


The Ancients believed that everything was made of four basic elements: Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water. These Elements were symbolic of the whole of human life and everything in society. With that in mind, Creative Writers have a template of character forms they could use to create four fully developed characters, who themselves compose a quartet of a perfect slice of humanity.

These same Ancients also believed in a fifth element that was a combination of all of the other four known as the Quintessence. So if you wish to use the four symbolic Elements in forming four characters, a good addition would be to add a fifth character – the Quintessential character.

Qualities Of The Elements

There are plenty of places to research the Four Elementals, but allow me to provide a quick rundown of what these Elements represent.

  • Air – thought, reason, the higher functions of the brain.
  • Earth – intuition, gut feelings, emotional responses to other things.
  • Water – sentiment, nature, interconnectivity.
  • Fire – impulse, pleasure, chaos.

There is certainly more that could be said, but this will suffice to get the basic points across. Like I said, there is more available to study if you so wish. But even this scant amount is sufficient for the Creative Writer who wishes to use this to form characters.

One Example

I have used this form before in more than one novel, but one work in particular structures the five main couples on this pattern. This comes from my novella, Firmament. The five main couples are Jonathan and Florida Gameret, Juan and Mariposa Tierra, Ian and Lilly Dotian, Johnny and Bryony Rivers, and Ivan and Iolanta Nyebov.

Rivers clearly refers to water, and Tierra has to do with the earth. Dotian is an old Celtic word for fire and Nyebov is from the Russian word for sky. This would imply that the Gamerets are the Quintessential couple. There surname has a different meaning (taken from Parzival). All of the men’s names are forms of the Quintessential male’s name, Jonathan. And as Florida refers to flowers, Mariposa, Lilly, Bryony, and Iolanta are all names of flowers. It also implies fertility, which is only made possible in the Quintessential couple.

The novella Firmament deals with love and strife as the two creative elements in life. This story is how all of these couple fall in love, but eventually deal with death. How one or both died again harkens back to their Elemental nature. The Tierras crash over a blown bridge on a train to the gorge floor below. Ian Dotian is blown up by a grenade. Bryony Rivers drowns in a car the goes over a bridge into a river. And Ivan Nyebov’s Russian bomber is blown out of they sky by a German fighter plane.

And of course, these characters share the qualities associated with their Element. Juan Tierra is very emotional, even to a fault. Ian Dotian was given to a chaotic life, and his wife Lilly is definitely impulsive, if not impatient. Johnny Rivers was quite sentimental about his mother. And Ivan Nyebov demonstrates great logical skills and his tendency toward deep thinking, particularly discussing politics with the tail gunner while they are on their first bombing raid.

There are a lot of forms available for developing characters in groups. I depends on how many you wish to put together and what the story demands. All good Creative Writers should appreciate the skills that go in to proper character development and take any opportunity to add to their folio anything they can. These can help us become the Quintessential Creative Writer.

I hope you enjoyed this article, and if you did, please hit the Like button. And if you of other authors who could use this material, please share this post with them.

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