“Much that once was is lost for none now live who remember it.” So speaks Galadriel, Queen of the Elves has the movie the Lord of the Rings; The Fellowship of the Ring begins. Truly spoken, for the writer that inspired Peter Jackson, the movie director and so many cast and crew is gone from this world. The works that in turn inspired JRR Tolkien were written down hundreds of years before, and told orally hundreds before they were set down. They were his passion, old English literature, like Caedmon’s Hymn, and Beowulf. From these came the threads Tolkien wove into the greatest novel, and the best movie, of the 20th Century. All was not lost to time, a little bit survived, and that little bit changed the world.
It is important to note here, that The Fellowship of the Ring is only a third of the entire saga. Thus, some of the similarities and ideas between the movies and the literature are not feasible. Until the other two movies come to the screen. An example of this is the name Eomer. In Beowulf the name is mentioned, but the character in Tolkien doesn’t appear until The Two Towers, out this fall. There are enough interesting parallels between movie and literature to be entertaining.
Tolkien, like most writers, barrowed names from works that he admired. With a little twist a whole new name was created. The most obvious name can be found in Caedmon’s Hymn. In plain English the line goes, “then middle-earth, mankind’s Guardian,” (pg 25, Ln 14). Middle-earth is the common name of Tolkien’s created world. During the prologue of the movie, Galadriel describes the war of the Second Age, which includes “they fought for the freedom of Middle-earth.” Besides grabbing his worlds name from Old English, Tolkien also took others.
Frodo Baggins, son of Drogo, is the Ringbearer of the One Ring, the most powerful ring on Middle Earth. He’s the one volunteer to take the ring back to Mordor to destroy it, and the entire fellowship is created to keep him safe. Interestingly, the source of his name seems to come from Beowulf. There is mention of the graceful Freawara, who is the young bride to be of Ingeld son of King Froda. There is more on this King Froda. Not in Beowulf, but in a more obscure reference called the Gesta Danorum. Called Frode in the story, he inherits a penniless kingdom, and makes it great. He wears a mail-coat impervious to pointed steel, is associated with gold rings, companioned by a wise “Merlin-type” man named Ygg, and a dragon-slayer. (Chap 15, PG 176). In the movie, there are several mentions about Frodo, and one of his uncle, Bilbo, that sound suspiciously like the old English Frode. The rest of Middle-Earth is scarcely aware of the existence of hobbits, or of the Shire. With the events brewing both the land and the people will be thrust to center stage. When the cave troll in the mines of Moria gores Frodo, he is unharmed because of his mail-shirt, made of impervious silver called mithril. The association with gold rings, or ring, and a `wise Merlin-type man”, or Gandalf, are all obvious. The dragon-slaying part had more to do with Bilbo then Frodo, but is mentioned in the movie with a line from Gandalf, “If you’re referring to the incident with the dragon I was barely involved. All I did was give your uncle a little nudge out of the door.”
Frodo and Eomer are the only people named from the saga Beowulf. However, there was a race that was named after something in that same saga. During the introduction of Grendel, the word ogre is used. Taking the old English translation, Tolkien came up with the word “orcs”. These hideous creatures move only in darkness, like Grendel, and hates merriment and cheer from which they are excluded. Orcs in the movie torture the creature Gollum, menace the company in the mines of Moria, and finally kill and carry off three members of the fellowship. These actions correlate to Grendel’s nighttime attacks on Heorot, his detestation of cheer, his menacing of the Shieldling’s lands, and the murder and looting of any warrior who stays in Heorot over the night. The movie mentions that orcs came from the elves, which are aligned with goodness, and were twisted into their present shape. In a similar fashion, Grendel came from Cain, a human man, and was twisted by hatred into a monster.
Grendel can also be viewed as a source for the dread Ringwraiths, or Nazgul. They chase Frodo and his friends from their home to the safety of the Elvin-owned Rivendell. Aragorn, who will be discussed later, relates the story of the Nazgul to the hobbits. The Nazgul were once “great kings of men”. Sauron gave them nine rings of power, and one by one they fell into darkness. For their rings were controlled by the One Ring. They became wraiths “neither living nor dead” hunting the Ring and serving Sauron’s will. In Beowulf, Cain fell under the power of evil, and through him Grendel. Like the wraiths, he has one unswerving goal to take Heorot, and he too works for the greater evil.
Grendel isn’t the only evil being with ties to the movie. The taking of the One Ring and the subsequent “awakening” of the Dark Lord also find echoes in Beowulf. In Beowulf, a cunning thief slips into the dragon’s den and snitches a pretty golden cup, which he then carries to his lords. Here, the goblet is the Ring retrieved from the depths of mountains by Bilbo. The dragon is Sauron, who awakens to rage forth in search of his ring. “His every thought is bent on it,” Gandalf tells Frodo. Sauron rages forth with orcs, wraith, and the “evil will” in the Ring itself. Frodo does single combat with the Dark Lord, because heagrees to take the ring to Mount Doom in Sauron’s land of Mordor.
Evil isn’t the only influence uncovered. Frodo mimics Beowulf in going to fight the `dragon’. There are two others who are based on the hero Beowulf, Aragorn and Boromir. Though the one with the most similarities is Aragorn. Both had humble beginnings, and both travel over the lands. He is the heir of the unclaimed throne of the great human kingdom of Gondor. Beowulf is described thus “there was no one else like him alive. In his day, he was the mightiest man on earth, highborn and powerful” (196-197). Such a quote would serve Aragorn well.
His manner of appearing to aid those who are being pursued by wraiths, already linked to Grendel, is similar to Beowulf helping the Sheldings. Meeting with Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin in Bree, a small town where they lodge for the night, Aragorn offers aid and explanation, including what the wraiths are. In affect he offers “wholehearted help and counsel” (277). He battles the wraiths the next night with fire, but only after they stab Frodo with a poisoned blade. Aragorn drives them off for a short while. Eventually they chase Frodo to the Fords of Bruinen, where a great flood unhorses them. This is similar to Beowulf’s fight with Grendal, who kills a man before Beowulf begins the fight. Neither use their swords, and both creatures are finally defeated under the water.
During the first portion of the Fellowship of the Ring Boromir, son of the ruling Steward of Gondor plays Unferth to Aragorn’s Boromir. Aragorn has far more renown and reputation then Boromir, plus he will supplant Boromir’s father has king of Gondor. He becomes “sick with envy” at Aragorn, and the tension continues throughout their travels. Unlike Unferth Boromir is brave, and aids the others in fighting off orcs, watchers in water, and other horrible things. At the end, Boromir turns from Unferth to Beowulf. The dragon episode comes into play, but this time it is Beowulf’s last battle which is the focus. Fighting off hundreds of orcs to save Merry and Pippin, Boromir is pierced by arrows while the two hobbits are carried off. Charging in, Aragorn slays the leader, and then comforts the dying Boromir. In a funeral boat, stocked with everything he owned, Boromir is sent down the nearby river Anduin and over the falls of Rouros towards Gondor. Boromir resembles Beowulf because he attempts to fight something he cannot win against. He dies, like Beowulf, from his wounds and is give a grand funeral. Aragorn takes on the role of Wiglaf, killing the leader and then staying beside the fallen Boromir. Merry and Pippin parallel the Geats; carried away by raiders after the fall of the leader.
So ends the Fellowship of the Ring and Beowulf. While there is more adventure to follow for the fellowship and more parallels with Beowulf telling them might take a book. Names, places, races, good and evil are found into a lovely piece of literature and re-arranged to become something original. That’s how it has always been, and that is how it will always be.
*I know I didn’t cover half of what Tolkien barrowed from Beowulf. This is just what I uncovered in the short amount of time we were given to write the reflection. It is a good beginning, but could go so much farther. I know this, and maybe someday it will.